Computers and the internet have enhanced our lives in many ways, but have brought with them a new set of issues that must be dealt with from a parenting perspective. While there are fewer trips to the library and less time spent digging through volumes of encyclopedias, there is the lure of the screen in the room calling your young one near to occupy their time in ways we never imagined when we were children. Isn’t it about time we thought about setting limits on screen time?
There are some recent studies that indicate a disparity between how much time parents think their kids are spending online and the actual time kids are spending online. There is no doubt that the key to managing the issue is to have a good understanding of what is really happening.
So how much time is too much?
The answer to this will depend on you and your child. You must determine this based on what you know about your child and their ability to manage themselves. Also, make the limits age appropriate. It should go without saying that an 8 year old will require less time online than a 17 year old.
Kids don’t care for rules, but there is no denying the necessity for boundaries. As parents, most of us are aware that kids aren’t very good at flipping the “off” switch. This is true of many things (especially those that are fun) and surfing the web and connecting with friends though social media certainly falls into this category.
For those kids who struggle with real life interpersonal relationships, spending too much time at the screen can prevent them from developing the necessary skills to improve and live successfully. Computer addiction is a real thing for some people. If you fear that you have bigger issues than you can manage, contact a professional.
More and more our students need access to computers and the internet to be effective in school. However, it is up to you to know how much of the study time will really be spent on studying and how much will be personal computer time. You must ask very direct questions regarding homework and don’t stop until you get real answers (a list of assignments and estimated time to complete is a good start).
So how do you manage it?
If your kids are young enough, get ahead of the game by setting expectations and sticking to it. You might start elementary aged kids at no more than an hour per day during the week. Keep computer time in an open, conspicuous place. With all that there is to take in on the internet and the predators that exist, it is best to have an open door policy. Check in from time to time in a non- intrusive way to just make it clear that you are involved.
Explain the dangers of too much time on the internet and the internet itself
Many kids are getting this message in school, but hearing it from you says you are involved and care. Responsibilities first. If only I had a nickel for each time I’ve had to say that. Be clear that homework and chores must come before surfing the net or catching up on social media… and speaking of that…
Reinforce the importance of focus during homework
Some studies suggest that playing music in the background can actually help students, but the distraction of the internet and television is more often counter-productive. Consider implementing a work/break block schedule. For example, work solely on homework for 50 minutes (that means no cell phones, too) and then allow a 10 minute break for a tech connect.
Manage your expectations first with discussion
Talk through difficulties calmly and re-establish guidelines. Avoid taking the computer away. That will only lead to resentment and possibly prevent them from completing school work effectively.
Consider an unplugged weekend challenge
Many kids (and parents) can benefit from this. Plan fun stuff to do that does not involve technology and reward yourselves after your success… Sunday Night Sundaes?
Don’t fight it
There is a great deal of fun, informational, and educational material available on the web. Instead of going against the grain, get involved and play along when possible.
Set a timer
Agree on a time limit and set a timer that everyone can hear so there will be no misunderstanding. This has many applications… think showers.
Be the example
Monitor your own behaviors and make sure that being connected does not interfere with connecting with your family. At our house, for example, there is a strict ‘do not disturb’ policy during dinner; no texts or calls in or out during our family meal time. Period.
Tech Software to enforce limitatoins
If you feel it is necessary check out some of the many options for limiting access to the web and/or certain sites. There is software you can purchase and many computers come with parental control options. This will vary by computer so do some research. Just be aware… kids are clever, and can often find ways around the controls. Do not rely on computer to do your job. Your interaction is still the best course of action.
Consider an electronics curfew
For many, the answer lies in teaching their child to manage their time within a window. At 10pm, for example, all computers and cell phones are gathered up and not allowed to be used until the following morning. This will force the student to complete homework and personal tech time before the strict deadline arrives.
In a parenting nutshell, set clear expectations… and stick to them as much as possible. Be flexible with the plan but still true to the overall goal. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right every time.
Parenting is a work in progress. The main idea here is to be involved. There is no cut and dry answer. Use what you see above and your own intuition to develop a plan that works for you and your family.