The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit their kids’ sedentary electronic pleasuring to two hours a day. I believe this guideline is well reasoned for at least five reasons:
• Using more of this technology can reduce the odds that a kid will sweat and breathe hard for 60 minutes a day, which is another broadly promulgated guideline.
• Using more of this technology can reduce the odds that kids will advance their face-to-face people skills.
• As is the case with just about too much of anything, too much usage of technology can worsen pre-existing vulnerabilities (e.g., mood disturbance, anxiety disorders).
• High school students who aspire to be competitive for admission to high quality academic institutions do well to use the summer to work at internships, to do community service or to engage in activities that will put them into the running for these more difficult to get into schools. Obviously, being plugged in too much at home reduces effectiveness along these lines.
There are a few related questions that come up from parents:
I can’t control what my kid does when I’m not home. How can I enforce such limits?
First of all, a scheduled kid is a kid who isn’t as much in a position to defy such rules. But, if you need to resort to it, there are plenty of tools available to assist. For example, you can purchase devices that lock onto the ends of plugs or which turn electronics off after a pre-programmed amount of time (e.g., see www.familysafemedia.org).
How important are rating guidelines?
I believe these guidelines are very important to follow, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise. Of course, your progeny will likely lament that hordes of his or her peers use this or that game, watch this or that movie, or otherwise consume material that violates such age/ratings guidelines. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that while not all parents who hear such complaints are effective, just about all effective parents hear such complaints.
My kid is way more tech savvy than me. How can I hope to establish and enforce parental controls and guidelines?
If you Google “parent controls” together with whatever device you’re dealing with you will likely find help (making sure to have the right model/software version). Otherwise, offer a 20-something person an Amazon gift card if s/he can check your controls for you; tell him or her that you’ll double the value if s/he is able to get around your controls, show you how s/he did it and offer countermeasures. I don’t find that this needs to take much time.
Should I be checking my kids’ emails, texts and pictures?
First of all, it’s your kids’ job to promote his or her independence and to become very upset when you check such things. But, there is evidence that when s/he believes that you might check his or her technology, at any time, that the resulting apprehension can increase the odds that s/he won’t go over to the dark side.
The best suggestion I have is to try to stay in the middle ground, which is a moving target. Too far to the right and you’ll be too monitoring and restrictive: signs of that are that you’re acting like a warden, your kid is acting like an inmate and s/he is becoming socially isolated. Too far to the left and your kid is either stepping on land mines or showing sings that s/he is at significant risk for such. Regardless of where you land on that continuum, some degree of checking and monitoring is usually advisable; the degree of this can be determined by your kid’s age, manifested success/failure and vulnerabilities (e.g., a kid struggling with ADHD may need more monitoring). (For more elaborate guidelines and a fuller vetting of the issues please see chapters 3 and 5 in my parenting book.)
What should I do if my plan seems to be not working?
This one is easy. Seek out expert assistance! For a referral, click here.
Good luck my fellow parent-lunatic!