Setting Boundaries for Tech Addicted Kids (And Parents)

Jul 28, 2016


You’ve tried your best but no matter what you do, your child’s favorite activity is to spend all day on their smart phone or tablet. If bribery, discipline, and intervention has not worked, it’s time for you to face the truth: your child may have a tech addiction.

Like most parents I struggle with setting boundaries with tech that my family will respect. Before setting boundaries, it is important to understand why our kids are on tech so much. Unfortunately, the real truth is that we as parents are partly responsible. Here are some things that you may need to think about before working to limit their screen time.

  • Examine Your Own Tech Usage
    I never used to be a big TV person, but my husband was used to turning the TV on when he got up and keeping it on until bedtime. I broke him of this habit because I find that background noise terribly distracting. I’m guilty too, though. Games like Candy Crush relax me and I can easily overindulge. Additionally, I’ve exchanged books for Kindle downloads. While I know I’m reading a book, to my children it looks like screen time. How much time do you use screens and tech around your children? They will learn from what they see, not just what you tell them to do. Breaking your child’s tech habit begins with working on your own.
  • Overuse of Smart Phones
    With so many families exchanging landlines for smart phones, many of us now feel we need 24/7 access to our phones. We use them for so many of life’s details too: car navigation, camera at events, scheduling our days. Even though such phone use is practical and handy, many of us have lost the ability to leave home without it. Take stock of how often you use and rely on your phone and other devices and think about which are not necessary.
  • The Myth of Boredom
    We live a day and age where boredom is intolerable and we’ve taught that to our children too. Most people don’t know what to do if they have five minutes of free time. However, research has shown that boredom is linked to creativity. If you or your children are struggling to be creative, to solve problems and to think outside the box, you may be spending too much of your downtime on your devices.
  • The Lies We Tell Ourselves
    I have a secret. I’m actually thrilled when my learning disabled daughter is playing an age-appropriate video game. She struggled for years with these games, but almost overnight, seemed to have mastered one her dad likes. Pretty cool, right? The downside is that, like most kids, she would rather play lots of games than read a single chapter in a book. I’m still happy with her accomplishment but it must be balanced with other offline activities. What lies are you telling yourself that encourages your child to spend more time on tech?

House Rules for Setting Boundaries

Once you’ve taken a good look at those very difficult questions and answered them honestly, you are ready to create boundaries for your child. Tech addiction often takes place among all the members of a family, so make sure that you and all your children abide by these rules.

  1. Create places and times that are tech free in your home.
    We have one big rule: NO phones or tablets while you’re eating. That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Instead, after dinner snacks in our home are also a time to turn off the TV and read together. We also keep all our devices on the first floor – except for my Kindle – to make sure the kids don’t go to sleep with our phones.
  2. Turn off the Wi-Fi
    This may be an easy way to create “tech free” times in your home, depending on how your system is set up. You can also limit your phone’s data plan rather than have an unlimited package. Net Nanny® gives parent’s the option to literally “pause the internet” on any mobile or electronic device at home and remotely.
  3. Optimize their screen time.
    Your family members are going to be on tech, so do your best to encourage educational activities that engages the whole family or in some way boosts a skill. For example, my daughter loves photos so I’m teaching her to take pictures with her tablet and use apps that she can use to hone that skill.
  4. Create tech-free family activities to do regularly.
    While it’s great fun to play a video game or watch a movie together, it’s better yet if you can come up with activities that involve zero screen time. For example, a daily walk after dinner is something we do together whenever the weather is nice. Sunshine and fresh air can positively counteract too much screen time. Playgrounds, swimming, hiking, bowling, laser tag, trampolines, library/book store events, seasonal activities, sports events, etc. are all good ideas. Check out local events to see what’s happening around you that is age appropriate for your children.
  5. Leave the phone behind.
    For any trip that’s under an hour, just leave the phone at home if you can, or leave it in your car. Don’t give it to the kids while you’re waiting for food to arrive at a restaurant, are on a line, or other “wait” times for activities. You’ll create a bad habit that is very difficult to break down the road if you do. Don’t give them the phone while driving, either, unless it’s a long road trip. Make sure you keep this rule for date night too! Even though you’ll need your phone for babysitter emergencies, resist the temptation to use it at all while you’re out.
  6. Create boundaries for using tech.
    In addition to tech-free zones and times your children earn their tech time. Create a list of what your children must do before they turn on the TV, gaming device, tablet or phone. This can include crafts, chores, play time and time outside or get creative with it. Perhaps you can integrate a time for helping others, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or organizing a clothing donation field trip.

If you believe your child has a tech addiction, the time has come to understand the causes. That includes how much you contribute to it with your own habits. Once you do, you can create a plan to address those problems. Technology is a great tool for children, but like everything else, moderation is key. Don’t let them spend their whole lives in front of the screen when a whole world of activity awaits them. Want to learn more about parental controls? Click HERE for more info!