Since the beginning of time, one of the responsibilities for parents of children has always been setting boundaries. When should they be awake, and when should they sleep? How far down the street can they go with their bike? How much candy is the point of no return?
Today, we have extra rules we need to apply. Kids explore everything, and technology puts everything at their fingertips. It can be a great wealth of information for them, but it also can hinder other development when the technology gets in the way. We know when enough is enough, but how do we define that? How do we convince them that mommy and daddy know best and that the iPad needs to be put down now?
Set predefined rules on a tiny basis. Also, take the time to explain why you are making that rule. ‘No, you cannot install this game, as it’s not appropriate for your age group.’ ‘Yes, you can have 30 minutes of the interactive book before bed.’ ‘No, you can’t have a Snapchat account as you’re not old enough yet’. These are rules that children can digest easily. Researchers have found that specific-activity rules are more effective than global rules. Global rules, such as no phones at school or wash your hands before touching any screens, are harder to understand and easier for them to push against.
One common perception that kids have of their parents is that they have to ask permission before doing anything online. Kids don’t feel like their parents trust them to be a good child.
The best way to set you and your children up to make good online decisions is to start with another appropriate ‘small rule’. ‘If you want, you can (safely) use your tablet time doing anything you want within this coloring app’. This sets the child up for freely making their own decisions in a place the parent can feel comfortable giving them these freedoms.
You and I both know that saying ‘no screen time on weekdays’ will only cause kicking and screaming and headaches for both parties. Instead set another small rule limiting their tech time to an acceptable level.
But don’t just limit it, because that’s the same as prying the device away. Instead, let the child determine how that time should be divided. Maybe on Mondays they get 30 minutes of TV time, and Saturdays they get a mix of TV, tablet and Nintendo time. Turn the demand around and, in the child’s mindset, let them set their own limits.
When designing the video game ‘World of Warcraft’, originally the game designers had implemented an experience point penalty if you played too much. Players, both kids and adults, complained because they felt that they were being unfairly punished. Before the game officially launched, the designers quickly changed their strategy.
Instead of lowering the number of experience points for playing too much, they called the lower amount as the ‘normal’ amount. During the acceptable play session lengths, the players received elevated amounts of bonus experience (which was set to what the designers had set for short sessions originally!). Players immediately changed their tune and started policing their own play time to ensure maximum experience point efficiency!
Be the designer of your child’s life. Once you and your partner decide what acceptable tech time limits are, shave an hour off to reserve as bonus time. Tell little Jimmy ‘if you follow the rules without complaining, Sunday afternoons you can have a bonus hour of Mario!’ You’ll see how fast little Jimmy’s tone changes.
What technology rules work in your household? We’d love to hear them. Share your comments in the ‘Leave a reply’ section below.