Fighting Kids' Screen Addiction: What Can Be Done?

When I was a kid, there was no internet. There weren’t even any answering machines (yes, I’m showing my age!). If I wanted to talk to a friend, I had to use the phone that was attached to my kitchen wall, and speak to their parents in a polite manner before they got my friend on the phone. Then I had to sit in the hallway on the floor for as long as the conversation lasted.

And then when I was a tween, Atari video games came out. At first, we were all fascinated by it. Wow, what amazing technology that was (back then, it was). I loved playing this ping pong game (I don’t even remember the name of it), and of course, Pac Man.

And we also had to write letters to friends for family members who didn’t live nearby. I have a cousin who is like a sister to me. She’s 2 years younger, and until we were 14 and 16, she lived in Virginia (I was in Chicago). So, we would write each other all the time, often with weeks in between getting letters. But the anticipation of getting one was fun!

Then… the summers. I was lucky enough to have a pool and trampoline in my back yard (which was unusual back then). I remember always having friends over to swim, jump, bike ride, and sleep over. In other words, we interacted and were active with each other.

So that was my childhood and teenage years. Anyone else out the who can relate? I’m sure many of you can.

Fast forward to the modern day technological age. Wow, how things are different!

My kids are 15 and 13, so they are too old to have played with iPhones and iPads when they were babies and toddlers (the iPone didn’t come out until 2007, and I didn’t even get one until several years ago!).

But my oldest son was not an easy child. He was colicky as a baby and threw marathon tantrums until he was 5 years old. I used to think there was something wrong with him, but I’ve since figured out that’s just his temperament.

I’m not proud of this (confession coming up), but I used the TV as a babysitter for him when he was little. He absolutely loved Blue’s Clues and Caiou when he was 2-5 years old. And guess what? It kept him quiet.

I know you’re not supposed to do that. But it did save my sanity during those years. And he’s turned out to be a pretty amazing kid who is an honor student, and more importantly, a really nice person.

When my kids were entering middle school, I broke down and bought them a phone. I didn’t think it was a good idea, but everyone else had one, and so I thought they would be left out (socially). Whether that’s a good reason or not, well, I did it.

I have had rules, though. No cell phones at dinner time. Don’t text me in the house…get off your toushie and walk downstairs to talk to me! No phones when you’re with your friends. TALK TO THEM.

I know most parents can relate to their kids being practically addicted to their phones or iPads, even if we didn’t grow up with them ourselves. I don’t care if your kid is 1 year old or 20 years old, they all seem to not know what to do with themselves if they don’t have a gadget in their hands. It’s like their arms are missing or something.

Yes, the world had changed. So what can we do to help fight screen addiction? Here are some tips for helping your kid put down their phones and live life a little more.

1. Model good behavior yourself.

Let’s face it – kids aren’t the only ones who are addicted to their phones and other gadgets. Many adults are just a bad. Just because we didn’t grow up with it doesn’t mean that some people aren’t equally as addicted to technology. So, if you always have a phone in your hands, are taking selfies, or looking at Faceook, well, they’re going to do the same. Don’t be a hypocrite – model the behavior you want your children to have.

2. Time limits.

A lot of kids are on their phone in the middle of the night. Why? Because they can. The parents don’t give a “phone curfew.” And think about how that is disturbing their sleep! Or their homework time. Or anything else they should be doing but are on their phones instead.

3. Rules.

Just like anything else, you have to have rules around cell phones and other screen time. Don’t let them take it to bed with them. Have a “family charging station” in the kitchen (or somewhere else). No phones at the dinner table or even in the car. Any rule that you think will limit their screen time – go for it.

4. Family game nights.

When all the members of the family are equally addicted to their screens, the they don’t do anything together inside the home. Break out Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. Have a fun night of charades or even Truth or Dare. Do things together so that no one is thinking about their phones.

5. Family activities.

Take the fun somewhere else. Go hiking, festivals, bike riding, shopping, or mini golfing. Doing things together as a family not only bonds all of you together, it is a much-needed distraction from technology.

6. Talk to your kids.

I just had lunch with a friend yesterday, and she was telling me how her nephew doesn’t even talk to his kids. They range in age from 8-14, and they merely co-exist in the same dirty house. He has no idea who his kids are or what they think. Talk to your kids! I mean, they’re your kids. It’s not too hard. Talking will bring you guys closer too.

7. Explain the consequences of too much screen time.

And I don’t just mean punishments. Although that can be part of the rules (like if they use the phone in the middle of the night, then they get it taken away for a set amount of time). But there are some actual biological issues that aren’t very good. Like the radiation, and the stress on your eyes. Do a little research and let them know that too much screen time is not good for their health.

Bottom line: The world has changed so much in the last 10 years that it’s really difficult to keep up with it all sometimes. It’s easy to just ignore the changes. But then it might be too late. Your kids might then be all grown up and then you’ll realize that you all spent their childhood with your noses in your phones. Is that really what you want to happen? I don’t think anyone does!

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