Screentime Battles: When Kids Refuse to Unplug

Many parents who come to my events are excited about my becoming a tech-positive parent…up to a point. But they are also sick of battling with their kids.

Some of them also feel nostalgic for a time where kids would just “go out and play” rather than being immersed in digital experiences.

Often these differences, set against an idealized version of the past, lead to a negative impression of technology in general. This mindset doesn’t help with screentime battles for two reasons:

  1. Technology offers opportunities to our kids in ways that we couldn’t have possibly imagined when we were their age.
  2. Technology will play a crucial role in our kids’ lives, which means that they need to build a set of skills around it.

Think of all the important touchpoints in your child’s life – learning to drive, getting into college, finding their first job, meeting their future spouse. Many of these milestones will be facilitated by technology.

Hiding from these realities is a disservice to your kids’ future. In my field work with parents, my impression is that they understand that – they just don’t know where to begin. Instead of fighting with technology, try re-focusing on becoming a tech-positive parent, with helping kids build a thoughtful relationship with social media, games, etc.

Identify the Concerns

The starting point is fear. If we can name the actual fears, we can address the real concerns. What is it in particular that worries you?

  • That your child will be detached, not able to interact in the real world.
  • That your child will be distracted by digital, and never finish anything.

These are understandable concerns, expressed to me by families everywhere.
Refocusing yourself and your family on some of the positive uses of technology will empower you. It will also help you diminish the some of the risks and challenges for your children.

Get Positive About Tech

Positive uses of technology can engage your family with one another, sharing and learning and just plain spending time together. It can help improve their resourcefulness. It can help open up new avenues for learning. It can even help kids better understand how to manage social interactions with peers.

This won’t happen on its own, though. Our kids need us more than ever. This is why we owe it to them to be honest about our concerns get to work mentoring them. As a parent and mentor, it’s up to you to set the tone and create the right environment for your kids – in the offline and online world. One of the best ways that you can do that is to start from the assumption that our children want to do the right thing, they just don’t always know how.

Kids’ intentions are usually pretty easy to understand—they simply want be entertained, to connect with friends, find like-minded peers, and communicate about their identities and feelings. Technology can add layers of complexity to these natural desires and that’s why they need your guidance.

Teaching Good Tech Habits

You set the tone. Your kids will take cues from you. Let’s prioritize technology’s positive aspects when we do so. Here are some simple things you can do:

  • Try to create a tech-positive environment in your home. Try to foster tech use in a shared space, so that you can “play what your kids play.” Design planned activities, online and offline.
  • Create fun, attractive, unplugged spaces as well to show that not everything has to be tech-based. Make it OK to get messy. Cook. Jam on instruments. Go outside even when it isn’t “nice.”
  • Create clearly-defined boundaries and adhere to them. Again, you are modeling for your kids. If you are easily interruptible by a text message from work during unplugged time with your kid, he will get the message that digital communication trumps face to face interaction.
  • By the same token, modeling respect for privacy and boundaries in the digital world is crucial. Not everyone handles technology in the same fashion. An easy way to start is to ask permission before sharing or posting something about someone. If the person says no, respect that boundary without judgment.
  • Recognize that the digital world is more complex – it’s changing all the time, with the rules of etiquette still evolving. Both you and your kids are going to make mistakes – and that’s OK. Get comfortable with that notion. The important thing is to find a positive way to offer your kids some guidance, and teach them how to repair, apologize and move forward.

Applying these principles is can help parents like you and me feel more empowered in the face of technology that pervades our kids’ lives. Of course some concern is warranted – there are real dangers. But we always want to be in a position to steer the discussion, be role models, influence habits, and even inspire ourselves and families we know to use the power of technology to make a positive difference in the world!


How Screenwise Are You?

How confident do you feel about your ability to mentor your kids in their digital world? Let’s have a look. I prepared this self-assessment quiz as a good starting point: How Screenwise Are You?


Getting Your Child a Phone?

Are you ready? Are they ready? Join my Cell Phone Boot Camp to get ready to support them through this important transition. Already got your child a phone and now wishing you’d been more prepared? This class is also good for a family that has recently purchased a phone for their child (in the past year.)


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