Perhaps you are like many parents right now: dealing with a child or adolescent who is doing schoolwork at home and you are trying to manage a job, a household, other children, etc. — all at the same time.
Children and adolescents are on computers for hours each day doing schoolwork, virtually visiting with friends, and then playing video games or using social media.
Many parents in the U.S. are dealing with children and adolescents who have technology over-consumption — yet sorting it out from healthy use becomes even more important in today’s world.
How is a parent to manage in these uncertain times?
1. Talk to the child and teach a healthy, balanced lifestyle. What does this mean? Technology today is non-removable from our society. Therefore, smart devices or phones aren’t bad, but we are teaching healthy uses. It is a good time for board games, card games, watching movies, etc., where there is a balance with other activities in their life, including taking walks, exercising, etc.
2. Work with your child to set a schedule for the day. Many children are learning executive function skills, organization and time management (on the fast track) that they have not done before. Helping them get organized and set an amount of time that they will be on their games or on social media gives them a “perception of control.” Trying to enforce your ideas on them without including their ideas first is probably a bad plan.
3. Socialization is important, especially as children become adolescents. I am spending each day doing telehealth with many children and adolescents, and a lot of them are feeling anxiety, depression and social isolation, even if they are in contact with their friends. Thus, I think having them be in touch with their friends is an important aspect of growth, socially and emotionally, although it is not the same as being in a group of their peers in a non-virus time.
4. Limit hours. This means a few things: limit the hours they are on the electronics, i.e., how much time; limit the hours they can go on the electronics, i.e., not past 11 p.m.; and limit what apps, websites, etc., you are comfortable with. It often is a good idea if you have a younger child or adolescent to make sure you have the computer, phone, etc., plugged in at nighttime where you can see it — or place it in your room to wait for the child the next day.
5. Have the child or adolescent do work while you are doing your work from your setting, if they need to manage their time. It is easy for children to disappear into their room and never to see the light of day while parents are doing their work. Many children are quite quick at switching from a YouTube tab to their schoolwork. Some children need more help than others, but in the meantime, you can have a rule about how many tabs they are allowed to have open.
6. Monitor closely the times they are in synchronous attendance with their school. In other words, do they have Google Hangout? Do they have times of the day where they are supposed to check in and are they following through with these? Stay in touch with teachers, intervention specialists, etc., to make sure that your child is doing what they are supposed to do.
7. Don’t be afraid to try some of the monitoring software that is available. You often can get controls on your cellphone to see what your child is doing on their phone or their laptop. Ask your cellphone provider for the most updated apps possible.
8. Know what is happening today in technology. For example, YouTube is out, TikTok is in. What is the difference? Lengthy videos versus one-minute remixes.
9. Explain why video games and social media can be so enticing. In other words, help them understand the situation. Video games reinforce your dopamine system every three to five seconds because you are getting rewarded in the games. They also create rage episodes when you lose. Social media pushes into the realm of social acceptance and likes, upon which many people build their self-esteem.
10. How much video game time is too much? I get asked this question often, but it really depends on the individual. There is no one true answer to this question. I think that some children or adolescents become quickly drawn in, where others don’t. It is important to have a balance in life and the danger right now is that children or adolescents who were playing sports, involved in clubs, involved in their church, temple, etc., are restricted from those activities now. Find a balance of other things they can do, such as online service activities, online religious events, etc.
Our goal is to help children and adolescents embrace technology, but keep a balance. As you move through this lockdown, it’s important to talk about the fact that the rules that you are doing now will not be the rules once the lockdown is lifted.
If your child is having difficulties with social media, the sooner you get help, the easier it is for successful interventions. It does not hurt to consult with a professional.
Jay Berk, Ph.D., is the owner of Jay Berk, Ph.D. and Associates, with offices in Beachwood and Westlake. He is an expert in the areas of child and adolescent behavioral health and he has taught on the subject in every state in the U.S., most provinces in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more. He is the author of two books, “Parent’s Quick Guide to Electronic Addiction” and “Code-Switching: Social Skills in The Screen Age,” both available on Amazon. Berk is available for telehealth consultation during the virus time and in-person consultation.