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Behavioral Problems General Social Skills

Family Tech Use Part 2: Resolving Common Dilemmas


June 01, 2018

Family Tech Use Part 2: Resolving Common Dilemmas

As promised in Part 1, Clarifying Gray Areas in Family Tech Use: Separating Red Herrings from Red Flags, this follow-up post offers resolutions for the common tech dilemmas many families face.

Dilemma #1: How do I moderate my child’s screen time when all of their assignments are online and have to be handed in electronically?

Resolution: Get creative! Help facilitate the assignment’s completion, but in a way that upholds any necessary limits on your child’s technology use. Here are four approaches:

  1. If your child needs the Internet to conduct research, then accompany them to the library, where they can find plenty of sources for their report.
  2. If retrieving a source online or getting onto a computer (perhaps one that’s school-issued) is part of the assignment, then you can supervise your child as they complete the task, ensuring they are not misusing time.
  3. If your child has to type his report, you might restrict electronics by arranging old-school accommodations to facilitate completion of the assignment. I know of an amazing product that allows you to type without even accessing the Internet. It’s the coolest thing. It’s called a typewriter. It comes fully loaded with . . . nothing. There are no apps and no Internet, so there are no inherent distractions. The author just writes.
  4. Your child might be required to submit some assignments online, perhaps by way of a program like Google Docs. That’s fine; but you can make the submission for them, perhaps by scanning the work and sending it in. Or you might explain to the teacher what’s going on at home and request that your child temporarily be allowed to hand in his assignments manually.

Dilemma #2: My kid needs a phone so we can stay in contact, especially in case of emergency.

Resolution: Carefully redefine the term “phone.”

On the heels of your child’s appeal that his homework assignment requires a computer or Internet access will come the argument that they need their smartphone “in case of emergency.” You entertain the argument because you want to reach them when necessary as well. But if your teen is not demonstrating the responsibility necessary to safely and appropriately possess his own phone, try issuing him an altered version of his Miranda rights: “You’re correct: you have the right to a phone. Sometimes we do need to reach you immediately and vice versa. If you can’t afford a cool phone by getting a job or by behaving enough for me to reward you with one, we’ll provide you with the simplest phone on earth. It’ll call one number: mine.” You can find these phones online, or you can use an app like Ignore No More to limit the functionality of the phone your child already possesses.

Dilemma #3: My kid reminds me that they own the phone or device. In fact, it was a gift we gave to them.

Resolution: Distinguish between ownership and use of the device.

Another appeal teens will make is that you (or someone else) gifted them the game or device, or that they purchased it with their own money, and thus they own it. In one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, the narrator debates simply not asking for a “normal” gift like a video game or toy one year: “What I’ve realized is that every time you get something cool for your birthday or for Christmas, within a week it’s being used against you.”

Many parents are careful about limiting something they’ve previously endorsed. They recognize that they are sending a mixed message if they buy a gift and then ask that it not be used. Indeed, giving electronic gifts without any agreement about how they are to be used can quickly backslide into situations ripe for mutual resentment. Kids start to resent their parents for giving a gift that seems to still belong to their parents; parents start to resent their kids because they’ve given the kids a gift that is seemingly being abused.

If this topic is a concern of yours, it’s probably because you have already given the gift, so it’s too late to arrange terms and conditions now. Next time, do so up front like Apple does for you by supplying that enormous document when you download the latest software update. For now, when your teenager strongly asserts that they own their phone, calmly remind them that you pay for the wall, the outlet, and the electricity necessary to charge the phone, and for her phone plan itself. Gently orient your teen to the fact that, if necessary for their own health or safety, you’ll need to cancel any recurring payments you’re making that support continued use of a functioning phone. Then remind your teen that they have control; they can choose, by way of behavior, how quickly they regain access to your continued financial support of the device, which is what makes the device worth having in the first place. Until then, they will maintain possession of a nonfunctional device. It’s also possible that your teen might be “ready for a phone,” meaning they are fully capable of appropriately managing their own phone all day and evening but might need some help turning it off so they’re not texting with friends all night.

There are certainly more tech dilemmas that families face every day. Your teen might even be making safety threats to get his way. What do you do then? Stay tuned to ChildNEXUS for more articles and read more in The Game Is Playing Your Kid: How to Unplug & Reconnect in the Digital Age.


Dr. Joe Dilley is a Los Angeles based psychologist in private practice who specializes in helping students balance their screen time with their academic responsibilities and social lives. He is the author of The Game Is Playing Your Kid: How to Unplug & Reconnect in the Digital Age.

Behavioral Problems General Social Skills

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