Before I take off reminiscing the pristine days of our childhood where we spent more time playing than being indoors, let me also point to a reality. In the India of my childhood and early youth, there was no internet, no addictive electronic devices, gadgets or games that we could be engrossed in for hours. So there is actually no comparison to how we would have been had those existed. Even the satellite channels came in much later. I am just glad that we grew up in that era (though Google would have been good to have!).
But, today from an early age, we let our kids watch videos on gadgets (some of them interactive), television and most tiny tots are pretty proficient with their parents’ phones. Little toddlers have a meltdown at the drop of the hat and harried parents often give their phones only for the sake of peace. I did not need to do it for both my kids. But the younger son since the past two years has completely taken on to watching videos of planes and other automobiles. He also loves playing games. Despite my strict rules about electronic device time, I did find him browsing the videos without telling me. That lead to many tiffs. Eventually, I got so sick of his behaviour that sometime in November, he lost all his privileges. He was only allowed to read books, no TV time, no screen time of any sort.
To say that it was tough would be an understatement but three months later when some of his privileges have been reinstated, there has been progress. He often complained of lack of focus and boredom earlier. I am not sure if that has been rectified now, but his complaints have reduced. Here are some ways to deal with electronic device addiction in kids from my personal experience:
1. Acknowledge that there is a problem
I feel the biggest roadblock is that as parents we feel so helpless that we often feel that it is okay for the kids to have the screen time that they do. Most surprising is those parents who are not even conscious of the fact that their kids are always on screens. I know that my older son’s friends have unrestricted screen time. Okay they are 16+, but I don’t think that ensures that most of them are not stuck to their devices. At get togethers, I often see kids slouched over tablets or phones of their parents. It is the easiest way to keep them ‘engaged’ while parents can unwind. I am not judging parents. We are human after all. But kids take advantage of this by throwing tantrums and demanding hours of uninterrupted game or screen time. I would suggest that we all do an audit of how much time our kids are spending on any devices they own and accordingly decide whether they should be asked to cut back. Not only are their necks and hands going to suffer in the long run, but their social interactions, focus and concentration as well. Some pointers that would help you:
How often do you charge the gadgets that your kids use?
Is it possible for your children to occupy themselves without demanding to use an electronic device?
Are your kids always having mobile phones, tablets or laptops close at hand at all times?
2. Set very clear rules about device usage and time and implement them
Often we parents are easily manipulated or feel very bad in taking away privileges even if they are harmful. Also arguments like all their friends have it or that they use electronic devices for lesser time than friends should not cut ice. I may sound heartless, but I don’t care about what other parents do. As a parent, I am responsible for my child’s wellbeing, and I will take action that befits that. Hence, I am never afraid to implement the strictest of rules. What I also do is that I have very clear instructions and rules. Hence the child does not feel cheated or cannot wiggle their way in by confusing me. I even make them write the rules in a book to refer to. You know how kids argue the hell out of you. And after the first part is done, I fairly implement them. Very rarely will I give in. And I’ve seen that though this approach may take time, it always yields results.
3. Do more family activities together
We’ve started playing cards and other board games together. We also watch a few movies together. I would play table tennis and badminton with them earlier before the knee injury, but we do take them along regularly for walks. Not only does it give us more time to bond as a family, communicate better, but it also gives them more things to be engaged in. Thus taking care of their perpetual boredom issue. We have also done away with our TV. That way all that idle viewing has become reduced. Now we watch some shows, movies and series only online.
4. Encourage them to read and try other activities
If you can involve your kids in some kind of neighbourhood or school volunteering activities, then that is a positive way of spending their time. Reading is an all-time favourite recreation that is very desirable. Sport is another option. Craft, storytelling, painting, cooking, gardening are other activities that they can do along with you or with your guidance. Let us show them a world beyond the virtual world.
5. Control our own screen time:
For most parents, this is the toughest. If we complain about kids being stuck to their electronic devices, well parents don’t fare any better. I have worked very hard to be online as little as possible. I hardly ever do recreational browsing. I try to schedule my work-related social media posts. We have to lead by example for sure. And sorry to say but most parents fail miserably at this.
Finally, remember that it will not be easy. Your kids will have thousands of arguments to sway you. They will emotionally blackmail you and even call you names. But don’t despair. It is not easy to get rid of any addiction. Hopefully, they will thank you when they are older. It will also help them focus better at their learning if they don’t become scatter brained by being too involved with their online activities. Also remember to reach out to a therapist for more strategies. There are counselors in schools these days that you can approach. All these have helped me. But it is an ongoing process. Hope that these strategies help you deal with any electronic device addiction that your kids may have.
I am interested in hearing if your kids spend a lot of time on electronic devices or even watching the idiot box. And how do you deal with it?
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