Practical Guidelines for Electronics Use
Technology has changed us all. Much of it is good and helpful, but as children are learning to use electronics they need a lot of oversight and guidance. Many dangerous challenges face children and young people today, so parents must be vigilant.
It’s tempting to use electronics as a babysitter for young children or to avoid conflict with teens or just keep kids busy. However, the consequences of too much electronics freedom can be dangerous for a child’s heart and life. In many children, anger and anxiety increase with electronics use, and children are tempted to isolate themselves and handle conflict poorly. Children of any age can become overly protective of their electronics time becoming demanding and self-centered.
Chores, schoolwork and qualities like initiative can suffer in children who overuse electronics, and childhood development can be slowed and even stunted. Many kids grow up without the life skills necessary to demonstrate responsibility as they get older. It’s important for parents to know how to navigate the use of electronics to take advantage of the good while not allowing the bad to weaken a child’s ability to handle life.
This article is the fourth in a series on electronics addition. You might want to read these previous articles:
Practical Guidelines for Electronics Use in Children
Remember, as a parent, your primary responsibility is to help your child grow to maturity and develop the life skills needed to be a responsible adult. We all know that, of course…but somewhere along the way, some parents make a shift in their thinking. It’s as if they abandon the life skills goal for another objective: I want to make my child happy.
It may be here where some good soul searching will help you as a parent reclaim your parenting mission. As you do, you’ll feel conviction to face the challenges necessary to help children manage their electronics use. We see that some children believe that their goal in life is to have fun. But pleasure is a by-product of a responsible life. When pleasure becomes the goal in any area, addiction quickly follows.
As you guide young children, look for ways to delay the onset of electronics activity. Avoid screen time with young children. When kids say, “I’m bored,” or, “There’s nothing else to do,” use those moments to stand firm. Taking the easy route and allowing the electronics in those moments robs a child of the opportunity to develop creativity. You might want to read the article: “6 Things Kids Can Do When They are Bored.” The reality is that the use of electronics is the easy way, often leading to laziness and weakening a child’s initiative.
Although it may be tempting to get your child a cell phone early, be careful. Kids are pretty savvy when it comes to smart phones and often go past the boundaries and limits parents set. What you thought was a tool for safety so that you and your child can stay connected, can quickly turn into a weapon of self-indulgence and even cyber danger.
More and more technology is available today to provide alternatives to smart phones for children, allowing parents to keep track, stay in touch, and provide timely parental assistance for their kids. Alternative phones can look like smart phones but not have the ability to text just anyone or access the internet, gaming sites, or social media.
It’s Not Just About Limits
Along with the limit-setting, be sure to encourage other healthy forms of entertainment. Look for ways to inspire your children to read, exercise, take on a project, or serve others. But in the end, don’t take responsibility for making your child happy by providing them alternatives to electronics. Transfer that responsibility to the child. After all, happiness is a choice and kids who blame parents for their unhappiness end up manipulating those parents with guilt. You might offer choices, but often no choice you provide will be able to compete with their desire to be online.
Children sometimes use electronics for comfort. One five-year-old girl fell off her scooter in front of her house and skinned her knee. When her mom went to comfort her, the girl’s immediate response was, “I want my iPad.” Comfort by electronics as a lifestyle is a fast track toward electronics addiction. When you see that, it’s a sign that unhealthy patterns are developing.
Set Clear Boundaries
As children begin to use electronics, it’s important to set appropriate limits and boundaries. Kids will often need the computer or tablet for school, but even then, it’s important to monitor its use. The child who toggles back and forth between listening to an instructor while playing a video game compromises well-being.
Many children want to multitask while working on homework or schoolwork. And, some can become quite good at it. The problem is that young people start asking the wrong questions about life. They often seek the bare minimum to get by instead of doing their best. They ask the question, “What’s wrong with it?” instead of asking the question, “How can I do a job well done?”
Be sure to set limits set on the availability of electronics. Children who have open access often indulge without restraint. Children who lack self-discipline need more parental-discipline. Just when you thought you could release your child to police themselves more in life, you realize you need to step in and provide stronger guidance.
It’s usually wise to avoid use of electronics in private places such as bedrooms. Putting computers in public places or requiring children to do their gaming where others can see can increase accountability and provide parents more opportunity to sense what’s really going on.
It’s usually best to park cell phones out of reach overnight, during mealtimes, during family activities, and even at times in the car. Driving is an excellent time to engage in dialogue but that’s hard to do when children have headphones in and are preoccupied with their favorite electronics distraction.
Much of the technology today comes with its own parental controls. Using these are helpful because the computer now tells the child that their time is up, or the internet search says something is out of bounds. In most cases, however, parental controls don’t go far enough.
Parents still have to monitor internet use, history, and time limits. Young people are pretty smart and, if they lack integrity, will look for ways to electronically bypass the parental controls to get what they want. Close monitoring is important to help children maintain their integrity.
Limiting apps, monitoring chats, looking over texting help children who might be tempted to compromise family values to fit in or engage in secretive or questionable activity. Parents often teach their children stranger danger and refuse to allow questionable people into their home. At the same time, however, a child can quickly invite a malicious guest through electronics either innocently or intentionally. Parental guidance is required to protect children from others and even from themselves.
More Practical Ideas
When young people are walking around the house it might be good to require “one ear always open.” This means that children can’t have two earbuds in while they are in common areas of the house. This simple guideline communicates availability, an important principle to increase communication between family members.
Children are often naïve about electronics use. Comments such as, “Everyone is doing it,” and “I have to stay connected,” are indications that children minimize the dangers and often have no idea how electronics are hampering their development. Parents must be proactive in teaching children about the negative sides of electronics use.
Kids need to know the signs of electronics addiction. One dad said, “My son knows that I’m closely monitoring his anger level. He and I both know that when his anger increases it’s time to pull back on the electronics.” Some children even need a fast from electronics for a period of time. There’s nothing like removing electronics use altogether for a while to reveal one’s addiction.
Teaching children about worldliness is important. It’s very easy for children to buy into secular culture and surrender their faith. Electronics play a huge role in this process as young people are bombarded with messages about what’s good and bad in life. Colossians 3:2 says it well, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” It’s often hard to think about spiritual things with the continual distractions provided by electronics.
Relational Benefits and Dangers
One of the good things about electronics is that they help people stay connected. Parents and children can text each other during the day. Social media posts can help extended family stay closer together. At the same time, this type of connection has limits. There’s nothing like meeting someone for a get-together or doing an in-person activity to learn appropriate and valuable relational skills.
Sometimes young people get quite involved with social media and group texting. Many times they haven’t even met those people personally. Although this isn’t always bad, it can be dangerous when a person becomes consumed with how many “likes” or “friends” they have. Social anxiety can increase in those cases so it’s important to maintain a healthy balance between electronic dialogue with others and real time interaction with friends and family.
Of course, it’s important for families to plan activities together. Playing games, eating meals together, going on outings, and serving others all help counteract the negative effects of electronics. But, even those activities will require some limits as children often want to bring the electronics along with them, weakening the potency of family dynamics.
And, let’s not forget that it’s important for parents to model appropriate electronics use. Maybe some parents don’t set limits on their kids because they realize that they, themselves, have the same kind of challenges. The family is a laboratory for growth for both children and their parents. We’re all learning and growing at the same time. As parents demonstrate their own transparency, kids learn through that vulnerability that electronics management is real and important.
One Final Thought
Parenting is hard work. With all the challenges of life, it can be tempting to ease up on the limit-setting, teaching, and training of children. Electronics are an easy go-to for kids when parents are tired. That’s a hard reality. In those moments you’ll want to look for ways to govern electronics. It may be that those times are the most dangerous in your home.
Yes, the work is difficult, especially when children become demanding and manipulative. But your hard work will pay off in the end. Remember, the goal is to raise children to be responsible disciples of Christ. Keeping that priority in the forefront can inspire you to continue on. May God extend his grace to you as you raise your kids!