Back to School: A Great Time for New House Rules for Technology

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Prevent social media and gaming distractions during homework time by setting boundaries and sticking to them.

A new school year has arrived, complete with new lunch boxes (I am more excited about clean lunch boxes than my kids!), new classes, new activities and the best of all, new friends. Since it’s a fresh start, there’s no better time than right now to set new screen rules for your kids.

Science tells us that our child’s brain is developing slowly, and even though your child may be really smart in math class, her brain is not mature enough to make sound screen decisions.  Your child’s judgment center is running behind as her underdeveloped emotion center is craving to play every game it sees and to dive recklessly into social media. Your daughter is obsessing over her fashion choices for her next selfie as the pressure grows to perfectly fit in. But it doesn’t stop there. Just imagine what it is like to be in middle school, working on homework and trying to communicate with eight friends all at the same time. Screens provide a constant distraction that is difficult for a young brain to manage and your child needs some help managing the technology overload he or she is facing.

Every tech-savvy parent knows:

  • Multitasking is a brain science myth; your child (and you) can only do one activity at a time. He can’t game and do his homework effectively.
  • Activities that your child learns and practices during childhood will strengthen specific neuronal pathways and set the foundation for how his brain is wired in the future.
  • Learning a hard (new) skill requires repetition, patience and time to develop. School can be challenging, but difficult subjects are good for your child’s brain development.
  • Neuronal pathways not used during childhood will be pruned away and will be much more difficult to activate later in life.
  • Moms and dads should have the most influence over how their children spend their time and their talents; Junior should not get a deciding vote until he is an older teen.
  • Time is a limited resource, and children need assistance to learn to use it wisely for the most important things: learning, exercising, and growing together as a family.
  • While technology is important, children need to attach to you more than their device and it is your job to keep it all in balance.

Parent tips:

1. Instead of scheduling in the screen time during your child’s day, schedule the most vital activities first: school, lessons, sports, art, reading, exercise, non-tech down time, and time with friends and family. Chances are he won’t have much time left for extra screens during the school week with homework, extracurricular activities, plenty of outside play, meal time and sleep (remember that teens need 9 hours a night).

2. Many families have a no TV/no games rule on school nights, and it works well for them. But don’t stop there. Use weekends for strengthening family attachments with some good old-fashioned down time to think and unwind off-line. Remember that interactive screen time, while fun,  is not stress-free for children; in fact, it is highly stimulating and exhausting for their developing brains, especially in large blocks of time. Screen time does not promote the mental rest they need to grow and develop well.

3. Keep screens in a common, visible place in the home, and institute a cell phone curfew early in the evening. Allowing computers, cell phones and TVs in children’s bedrooms is a significant mistake.

4. Make every effort to eat dinner together as a family with no cell phones at the table, where the most beneficial family conversation often takes place. Dinner becomes even more important during a busy school year. Guard it wisely. If dinner doesn’t work out try a family breakfast a few times a week.

It is up to you, the tech-savvy parent, to help your child structure a balanced plan or new routine, they can’t do it alone. Do not let screen or technology time eat up precious productive hours of his childhood–hours that can never be replaced. Perhaps it is time to give the games and the social media a complete rest (many parents have!) and let them focus on other activities and only use the screens they need for school work. Now is the best time to practically provide the leadership gift that your child needs from you: the gift of more family attachment and a screen-time rest at home during the school year. It may be just what your family needs to reduce stress and enjoy a more balanced and happier home!