August 23, 2016
De-Stressing, Rebooting, and Unplugging: Getting Your Kids to Step Away from the Devices
According to an article in the Huffington Post, recent studies in the United States and Canada have linked increased childhood use of devices like computers, tablets, phones, and game consoles with increases in rates of obesity and diabetes. These devices are also linked with “diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.” From anecdotal experience, many of us have also heard from parents who are struggling with technology-addicted kids or may be experiencing it with our own kids.
Of course, any parent facing this problem also recognizes how difficult it can be to get kids to disengage from their devices, especially when kids are inclined to go behind their backs to use their devices even when they aren’t supposed to. Kids, like many adults, have come to lean on their devices as a crutch, reaching for it as soon as they feel even a little bored and often losing hours on distraction. But the physical and mental health risks of over-consuming technology are quite real. Though it is difficult, there are some things that you can do to get your kids to stop taking their devices for granted and thinking of them as an entertainment crutch:
- Set up rules for the way technology can be used in your household. Your rules should cover things like how much time each child may spend on their devices each day, the degree of freedom each child will have with their devices, and the consequences for disobeying any of those limitations. Some parents have found it helpful to install a family filtering program like Rated 4 Kids that will allow you to set individual rules for each child’s device so that, for example, you can have your kids’ devices turn off after 9pm.
- Show your kids that you are very serious about enforcing these new rules. Because kids and teens tend to be more comfortable with their devices than their parents, they may try to look for ways to get around your rules. As soon as you catch each child breaking a rule, enact your punishment without hesitation. You may have to take some extra steps to ensure that it sticks. For example, you may completely cut off their access to their devices for a period of time unless they need a computer for homework.
- Start encouraging your kids to think of using a device for entertainment as a reward to be earned when they have finished their homework and chores for the day. Be sure to maintain the rule that device time will still be limited to just a few hours a day. According to the article in the Huffington Post, kids of all ages will spend an average of 7.5 hours on their devices per day, so it’s important to also work on getting your kids to spend less of their time on devices. Once kids have come to think of their devices as a “sometimes activity,” it will be easier to maintain this kind of device usage in the long-term.
- Create a schedule that lays out specific time allotments for all of the tasks your kids need to do each day before they are allowed to use their devices. Be sure to designate a specific time allotment for device usage as well. This will help your kids get a better sense of exactly what they need to do before they are allowed to use their devices, which can help to keep complaints and resistance to a minimum once they have adjusted to the idea that they need to earn their device time.
- Provide and encourage alternatives. Though it’s better if your kids are thinking of their devices as a reward for good work only, it’s better still if they can come to break their reliance on devices entirely by finding better, more fulfilling activities to do in their free time. Come up with activities both for after school and on the weekends that can take the place of device usage. But be prepared to participate in the activities yourself to keep your kids engaged. On weekdays, you might sit down to read together or do a creative project like build a model. You might also try to keep them active with a some outdoor games. On the weekends, set up playdates with other kids where you go to the park, a museum, a sport event etc. Setting a positive example is one of the best ways to help your kids develop a healthy attitude about how they should use their devices.
You’ve likely noticed in your own life that increased sedentariness as a result of more time spent in front of a screen can have a huge effect on your mood and outlook. Getting everyone off their devices and out of the house is a healthy practice for the whole family.