I’ll admit, I’m not immune to the problems. It worries me when I see my 14-year-old stepson, head crooked forward, sitting on the couch tuned into his smartphone. But then he is an elite-level hockey player and has a large and active network of friends as well. So I stuff my feelings and don’t say too much. But it nags at me nonetheless.
All those hours doing nothing when there are great books to read and skills to learn. He never builds anything. He never reads a novel. He never talks about the world he is experiencing. Except when we travel, and the phone is turned off.
His childhood makes me sad, but then, he is only on his phone a paltry 2-3 hours a day. I can only imagine the disappointment a parent feels watching her child waste even more time waiting for the next Instagram message to appear or desperate for the next “like” on Facebook.
Strategies For Parents To Help Children Reduce Cellphone Use
How about we as parents try some new strategies:
1. Model appropriate cell phone use.
Start with what we can do. Leave our cell phones at the door. Turn them off at mealtime. Don’t harass our kids with endless texts checking upon them. If we model restraint, maybe our kids will see it’s possible.
2. Limit access.
Stop paying for the darn phones. If your child is addicted, cut them off. A simple rule I hold to is that in general, when a child can afford a device they are likely responsible enough to have it. Let your child buy their own phone, their own data package, their own gaming systems.
Hold back from giving them everything they think they need to be like every other kid and let them feel that lovely self-esteem boost of knowing “I’m a little different” which could also translate into “I’m unique”. The way I see it, if they’re motivated to find work, and get themselves online, then they’re less likely to have the time to become addicted to their phone.
3. Set routines and structure.
No cell phone use at bedtime. Turn the phone off and put it away. Any addiction that triggers a change in brain functioning is going to be difficult to control as long as it’s there at hand ready to light up our neural pathways.
As parents, our job isn’t meant to be easy. It’s meant to prepare children for life and that means telling them “No” when really, deep down, that’s what they want to hear anyway.
4. Offer substitutes.
Create opportunities for kids to keep busy. Give them chores and real responsibilities that matter to the family. Planning a winter vacation and they’re coming along? Any 14-year-old with good net surfing skills can find a hotel on a beach, or scope out activities to do off-site at the all-inclusive.
Let’s stop making our children’s lives so easy and in the process offer them real diversions. Insist they are active an hour a day. Put them into activities and take away their cell phone. Oh, there will be histrionics, but the end result will likely be a happier, more engaged child with the life skills and habits that will make them healthier more successful adults.
It’s worth a try, isn’t it?
Written by: Michael Ungar Originally appeared on: Psychology Today Republished with permission