11 steps to unplug children from smartphones
Getting your children to turn off all screens (television, smartphone, iPad, iPhone, Wii, PlayStation, etc.) without asking them to do so more than 5 minutes without tantrums or cries.
Mission impossible? Maybe not
In this article we share some ideas and the steps to unplug children from smartphones and other entertainment screens.
It is difficult for children to stop playing when they are having fun. However, there are four moments which are “easier” and more appropriate to disconnect them:
- When children finish a level.
- After the kid gets the needed resource for a task.
- When the kid achieves the goal or overcomes a challenge.
- When the kid fails and throws the device out of frustration.
Because video games are so fun, children do not realise how much time they are spending on them. They want more and more. This becomes the base of dependence. And dependence can turn into addiction.
In our last article “How can I identify if my kid is hooked on games”, we explained the differences between dependence and addiction including a quiz to help parents identifying the level of dependence of their kids.
If your kid has a high level of dependence on screens, you need to address this issue with a specialist.
For low and moderate dependences, read on the following advises.
Steps to promote a healthier relationship with technology
You can suggest small challenges to help your children manage game time. Setting time limits is positive for child development. Limits provide security and teach that every action has a consequence.
Establish clear rules at home
Specify who, where, when, what for, how long for. For example: No one can use the Smartphone at the table during meals or in the car. We turn off the screens at 8 p.m. We do not use any device before bedtime.
Use an external switch
It acts as a signal indicating that children must disconnect. It can be a clock, an alarm or a parental control app like Kid Crono. It will be easier to respect the time limit and to state the rule impersonally without confrontation. “You have played for an hour as we both agreed. Time is now over”.
Be an example
Children learn by imitation. If you ask them not to use the smartphone at the table or reduce their screen exposure, the rule should apply to all the members of the family. Don’t expect them to fulfil a request that you are not able to meet youself.
Write a list of activities
It is important to help build performance skills. Ask your children what they want to do, what their motivation is, what they would like to learn. Remind them these options when they say they are bored so they need to use their iPad or phone. Explore alternatives to technology. For example: things to do by themselves, with a friend, with another family member, with a pet, indoors and outdoors.
- Go to the playground to swing and play with the sand.
- Practice a sport.
- Play board games (Uno, Monopoly, memory).
- Make a cake and learn to cook (Family cooking afternoon).
- Be in contact with nature.
- Play with toys, lego, trading cards, etc.
- Create a game, song, joke, poem, story or dance.
- Read a book or create a story night.
Teach them to delay screen times
Children can adapt to new schedules and rules if they are guided to do so. For example, if they get connected as soon as they arrive from school, ask them to have a snack and do their homework first.
Play with your children
They will love to show you everything they can do, what they have discovered and the level reached. This way you will know the content of the video games while you can talk to them about privacy and respect for other players. Also, you can check who their online friends are.
Respect your children’s rhythm
Our modern life is so fast and we have time for nothing. However, children need their time to look, to discover, to eat, to get dressed, to walk, etc. Adults can organize daily routine to reduce stress.
It is better to share with the family (for children under 13)
When the parents are the owners of the devices, it is easier to moderate the use of these. We can share tablets and laptops at home. If children are the owners, they use smartphones as toys and it is more difficult to set game time limits and rules.
An alternative to location call
Parents generally give a mobile phone to reach their children if they go out alone, at summer camp, etc. However, the reality is that children will not answer their calls as they will be happily playing with their friends. Note that at summer camps telephone numbers and calling hours are usually provided. So the kid can make it without a mobile phone.
It is better to have few video games
Each video game is designed to attract, captivate and hook the players. When your children complete all the levels and overcome all challenges, they will quickly lose interest in that game. A new game restarts the process. Remember that the relationship with particular games is what creates addiction. So the less, the better.
Dialogue is the key to education
In addition to these steps, it is important to keep a proactive and frequent communication at home. Dialogue does not mean losing our authority as parents. It means having conversations based on reciprocal respect for both parents’ and children’s rights and obligations.
Getting informed regarding the effects of technology on child development is parents’ responsibility. And then explain the uses, benefits and risks of being exposed to the Internet and to online games.
Through conversation, we clarify what is acceptable and unacceptable, for example, with regards to:
- The content that children can see online.
- The content that children can share online.
- The appropriate content for their age (TV, music, books, magazines, video, etc.)
- The time spent in front of screens.
A dialogue implies listenning
Listen to your children while they are playing. Be attentive to what they play and see on television or the Internet. Many contents are not appropriate for children. Besides, kids do not realize how they are being influenced by some violent games that also encourage discrimination and racism.
Most children search for videos on Youtube, where many contents have no age ratings. So it is very easy for them to end up watching a GTA game or even porn.
Do you know…
… what games your children play when they go to a friend’s?
… what they prefer to do when using a smartphone?
… which their preferred games are and why?
… if the kid is hooked on a particular game?
… if their friends already have a mobile phone, what they use it for?
While playing online, has somebody asked your kids their name, address and phone number? Children must know that they should not provide any data to strangers who claim to be online friends.
Children need to experience different challenges. They need to feel loved and listened by their family. If they do not find these opportunities in real life, they will look for it in virtual reality. – Andrew Doan, author of Hooked on Games.
It is our duty to show our children everything life can offer beyond entertainment screens and virtual worlds.
So, what do you do to unplug your children from technology?
Do you have one or two days per week with no tech?
Do you hide the devices?
Have you made the home rules clear?
Our children are growing in a world that changes very fast. Technology is here to stay. So it is better to use it sparingly and without dependence.