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Parenting in the Technology Age: Setting Limits - Dr. Charles Fay


Part 1: Parenting in the Technology Age: Real Solutions

Part 3: Parenting in the Technology Age: Teens and Distracted Driving

Do you ever feel like your child's cell phone, MP3 player, game console or computer has taken over your home? While these devices can be wonderful tools for communication, learning, and healthy enjoyment, they can also become dark and destructive without the necessary parental supervision and limits.

What’s your answer to the following question?

Has my parenting caught up with technology, or am I stuck in the “Middle Ages” when people used phones hooked to cords and web addresses were inhabited by arachnids?

While the basics of parenting remain the same, issues involving technology have left many parents wondering what limits are appropriate, how to hold their children accountable for misuse of technology, and how to help kids learn the decision-making skills required to make healthy technology choices when they leave home.

There’s good news! While these modern issues are definitely challenging, we can achieve success by applying some age-old parenting truths:

  • Kids need limits.
  • Limits are best set through actions instead of hollow threats.
  • When kids make poor decisions, they need to experience natural or logical consequences.
  • Consequences are always more effective when provided with loving empathy.
  • Our kids will learn how to live their lives by watching us.

Set Enforceable Limits

Children under 5 should spend almost no time playing video games, computer games, or watching television. Again, this also applies to educational games and shows. Older children shouldn't spend more that 15-30 minutes per day engaged in these activities. Wise parents set the following limit:

I allow video games, computer games, or TV in our home

only when they are causing no problems.

Wise parents don't hesitate to remove these items from the home when "problems" begin. Listed below are a few examples of the enforceable limits we, as parents, can provide:

  • You may have your computer in the living room, not in your room.
  • You may have your tablet as long as there is no arguing when I ask you to shut it off.
  • We allow kids to have their internet-connectable devices as long as they check them in with us each night. We’ll return them in the morning as long as there are no problems.
  • You may be on the internet as long as I'm allowed to review your internet history.
  • Feel free to have a cell phone as long as you can pay for the service.
  • You may keep your cell phone as long as you are not using it during meals, at church, while driving, etc.
  • I've encouraged your teachers to keep any cell phones they find you using during class.
  • I allow kids to use technology in my home as long as I feel that they are being respectful and responsible.
  • I immediately donate to charity any devices used to view or send pornography.
  • I report any illegal electronic activities to the police, even when the person involved is my child.
  • I’m shutting my phone off so that I can give you 100% of my attention. Thanks for doing the same.

While we can't control what our kids do when they are away from home, we can set good, solid limits when they're under our roofs. If they complain, "You don't trust me!" reply, "I don't even trust myself. Lots of really good people get in trouble with technology. That's why I always make sure that your dad/mom knows what I'm doing on my computer, too."

Understand that Electronic Games can be Extremely Addictive

I'm very, very concerned. Everywhere I go at least one person tells me the same sad story:

He plays video games nonstop. That's all he wants to do. As soon as he gets home, he goes into the bedroom, shuts the door, and starts playing his video games. When I ask him to shut them off, he ignores me or flies off the handle. And…forget about getting him to do any chores. All he thinks about is his games.

The story continues:

And our kids are getting just as bad!

Since most of these games operate according to variable schedules of reinforcement (the user cannot entirely predict when something exciting will happen) our kids get hooked into thinking that they have to play "just a little bit longer" each time.

Even educational games present these risks. To grab the attention of the learner, our kids' favorite games are highly entertaining… and stimulating. Is it any wonder that kids who spend too much time glued to these games find everything else boring?

Real life is always a downer when you're hooked on electronic uppers.

Do you have a loved one who's obsessed with playing video games? Is your family going down the tube as a result? I'm often asked, "How can I tell if my child (or my spouse) is addicted to gaming?" Perhaps the simplest test is to ask them to stop for a week. That's right! Just ask them to put aside their video games for one short week.

Here's what to look for:

  • Does the person get defiant and refuse to take a break?
  • Is the person willing to take a break yet becomes exceptionally irritable, depressed, or "bored" during that time?
  • Do they lie to you about sneaking game time during their "break"?

If you see any of these classic withdrawal symptoms, you can rest assured that your loved one has a serious problem that will lead to serious consequences if left untreated. My advice is three-fold:

Step One: Don't deny or minimize the problem. Know that it can destroy your family if you don't take action.

Step Two: Listen to our audio download, Real Talk on Technology.

Step Three: Get qualified professional help if your loved one refuses to live by the limits you set over their gaming.

The symptoms of withdrawal also indicate the addictive nature of these games: Irritability, extreme moodiness, and attempts to get a "fix" even if it requires manipulating and mistreating those who love you the most.

Great Kids Can Make Mistakes with Technology Too

Even wonderful kids can make mistakes when faced with the massive temptations whirling about the web. What's a parent to do when they discover that their child or teen has been visiting sites containing sexual material, racist, cult, or terrorist propaganda, etc.?

Safety first.

Before visiting with the child, remove or disable any devices you can. While we can't control every internet access point available to our kids, we must control what we can.

Protect yourself.

Immediately report to the police any inappropriate content involving minors. Absolutely report any threats of violence. Parents who’ve tried to cover up or “smooth over” incidents of such nature have found themselves in legal hot water.

If empathy is impossible at the moment, delay the consequence.

In an ideal world, a parent would respond with great empathy:

This is so sad. Today I discovered that you were on a website…

In this less-than-ideal world, we may need another alternative:

I am so angry that I can’t even think. We'll talk later when I'm calm.

When everyone is calmer, listen to your child’s heart.

In some situations, children’s hearts are filled with so much sadness, darkness, anxiety, or other forms of hurt that professional help is definitely necessary. In addition to providing healthy limits and loving consequences, the most effective parents look below the surface by asking sincere questions and listening without judgment:

I really want to understand. What about this is interesting to you?

Is this something that you are serious about or

are you just kind of curious?

Some kids get into that stuff because they are really hurting.

Does that sound familiar to you?

With great empathy, hand the problem back.

Over time… perhaps plenty of it… the child or teen must take real action steps to develop and maintain a plan for making healthier decisions. Depending on their heart condition, this may involve conscientious participation in therapy, demonstrating greater respect and responsibility in other areas of their life, agreeing to keep parental monitoring software on their devices, etc.

Until the parent feels thrilled with the youngster’s plan and their overall attitude about it, no devices are provided.

Replace Electronic Screens with Loving Relationships

Kids don't miss their computers and TVs near as much when they have parents who spend plenty of time with them playing catch, riding bikes, sledding, and doing other sorts of good old-fashioned things that build relationships.

Join us for the final entry of this series when we examine teens and their potentially deadly choices with technology.

Find great conversation starters about technology in my book Technology and Kids.

Part 1: Parenting in the Technology Age: Real Solutions

Part 3: Parenting in the Technology Age: Teens and Distracted Driving


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