Cell phone and technology use in general by children has been attacked by the media, schools, doctors and family. Technology can be an ally if used responsibly and with guidance from the parents, but it is common to find children who are already addicted to screens.
But if my kid is already addicted, what should I do?
First, we need to understand what happens when a child is using the cell phone completely out of place and proportion. Technology use becomes a problem when:
- They prefer to spend all their free time on cell phones, tablets or TV;
- They no longer play with things they like in order to be on the phone;
- They get extremely irritated when the cell phone battery dies or when an adult imposes a time limit;
- They are not as present in family activities: they don’t pay attention to conversations and don’t interact with family members because they are connected to the cell phone;
- They don’t do schoolwork under any condition, even if the parents ask or remind them (this is worth noting: most kids don’t like to do homework and try to desperately avoid this responsibility. This item is more valid in comparison to how the children used to deal with homework before they only wanted to spend time on electronics);
- The children or teenagers demonstrate more aggressive behavior than before starting to use screens excessively;
- Sleep is affected. Bedtime is increasingly delayed to later in the night and the children are having trouble relaxing and falling asleep. That is connected to the amount of stimuli that the brain receives and the content consumed by the children close to sleeping time;
- The children recreate violent scenes and acts frequently and without considering what they are doing;
- They become monothematic: always talking about the same things and without showing interest in other subjects;
If you have identified some of these items on your children’s behavior, it is possible that technology is being used excessively in your house.
What to do when children use the phone too much?
Before taking action, watch how you spend your free time at home and the frequency with which you use the phone, tablet or television. Children copy their parents’ behavior and, if parents also use technology excessively in front of them, it is more difficult for children to change their behavior with respect to screens. If you work using your phone, it is worth explaining that it is part of your job.
Time spent together with family is key to children’s lives, and putting the phone away during these moments is important. Helping children overcome excessive phone use is to also look at your own habits and reconsider how you use it.
Having done that, talk to your children about phone use regardless of their age. Explain the reasons why excess technology isn’t healthy. But remember that warning them isn’t about causing panic or shame.
Establish a time limit along with your child. Involving children in this type of decision makes the limit seem less unfair to them, in addition to them also consenting to the using time.
Enjoy your and your children’s free time together. Instead of being on the phone, play board games, make up a game of your own, teach them how to cook, make dinner together. Take advantage of this time to strengthen your family bond.
It is worth noting that participating in phone, tablet or TV activities within the children’s stipulated time is healthy: the bond is also formed and, at the same time that you become closer and you manage to get a sense of what they are consuming on the phone, the children also see that you are interested in their world.
Another piece of advice that may help when the time to put the phone away comes is a physical stopwatch on which you and your children can set the agreed-upon time together when they are about to use the phone or tablet or watch television. The stopwatch can have a theme or even be customized by the children.
Having an “offline basket”, where everyone in the house, including the adults, leaves the phone when they are not using it is also a good idea. Mealtimes are the perfect moment for the basket to be full, for example.
A helpful suggestion is not to treat the phone as a bargaining chip or as a prize/punishment resource. Placing devices in such a way on children’s lives can make them do schoolwork not because they have to, but in order to earn more time on the phone.
When it comes to punishment, it is unfair to take away an agreed-upon “right” due to misbehavior, specially when such behavior is unrelated to the phone, television or tablet. Using phones to award or punish may cause deep insecurity and ensuing anxiety in children, since there isn’t a clear rule as to when they will earn or lose the right to use them.