Years ago, parents had to “drag” their child inside when the streetlights clicked on. Nowadays, many parents struggle to get their child outside. The pandemic has kept children and adolescents inside for almost two years. They have lost social skills and other skills, such as gross motor.
They also have become accustomed to a dopamine rush, a proven fact from video games. It’s hard to get that same dopamine rush from other activities, and thus one must be diligent and aware of the reinforcement schedule that video games provide young people nowadays.
Video game gross revenue greatly outpaces that of the music and movie industries combined. Video games became extremely popular, especially when two things happened: gaming became mobile, but more importantly, gaming became social. Perhaps you have heard a thousand times from your child, “All my friends are on the games, too.” Parents don’t want their child to miss out, so if all their friends are on games, many parents give in and let them play games they don’t want them to play, or at times when they want them to do other activities.
Navigating electronics in summer can be difficult for parents. It is difficult because parents are busy, and children and adolescents can be very stubborn in not wanting to get off the games and sneaky in how they get on the games. It is hard to control when they have access to their games. Honesty and integrity are issues to be concerned with, and much more.
Here are some tips that might be helpful to you as a parent if you are working on getting a balance this summer:
Talk to your child about honesty and integrity. Work on continuing to build a relationship with your child or adolescent so that if they make a promise regarding games or social media, they will stick to it. If they break it, don’t get angry, get investigative. In other words, figure out why they broke the agreement. Was it something going on on social media that they were embarrassed about? Are they addicted to the games? Be a good detective, not a yelling parent.
Get the whole family involved. If your entire family is included, it’s more likely the child or adolescent is going to be involved in the process. For example, make a list of activities, put them in a hat, and have someone pick one out. That way, you can rotate who picks the activities and what activities are available. A second idea is to get the family involved in a new family activity that everyone can do. Pick something that may be different, that they normally wouldn’t do, such as archery, fishing, boating, or hiking. Make it a family affair, and make it fun.
Consistency of parenting is the key. Most of the time when I am working with children and adolescents with electronic problems, I find inconsistency in parenting in the home. All parental figures must be united in what the rules are and enforce the rules equally. I suggest having a basic amount of electronics time that a child or adolescent can have in a day and then doing “pay to play,” i.e., if they do extra things, such as volunteer in the community, they can earn extra time.
Don’t make electronics evil; make them just part of the day. Electronics themselves can be an interesting hobby. For example, nowadays there are esports teams forming in schools. It is when things are out of balance that there is a problem. Keeping the balance is the key. Therefore, don’t have an argument with your child or adolescent about not playing electronics or games at all, but try to work on a problem-solving agreement about what is reasonable. Include all electronics in the deal: phones, TV, iPads, computers, etc. Otherwise, the child or adolescent will just switch from one device to another.
Research activities the child or adolescent can do in the summer. After researching, have them pick one of maybe three that you agree are good picks. This gives them a feeling of some control over what they are doing, rather than being told they must do one particular activity.
Look at camps and programs. There are many unique programs available now for children, young adolescents, and even older adolescents that were not available years ago. For example, at my office we have a day program that works on social skills and STEM activities, as well as an overnight camp that works on social skills and electronic reduction.
Have a plan ahead of time. Oftentimes parents are caught in a pressured situation where they make an impulsive decision and then are stuck with it. If you are caught in such a pressured situation where you don’t know what to do, tell your child or adolescent: “I need to think about this before I answer you.” Generally it’s not an emergency, so take a deep breath, take some time, and reflect.
Seek professional help, if needed. Some children and adolescents can become very aggressive, verbally abusive, oppositional, and difficult about getting off electronics in the summer. If you are having this problem, seek professional help. Even if your child won’t go, you can go yourself and get advice.
Dr. Berk is a psychologist, author, and coach who works with clients including children, adolescents, adults, and families locally and around the world. He is the author of two books, “Parent’s Guide to Electronic Addiction,” and “Code-Shifting: Social Skills for the Screen Age”. For more information, visit jayberkphd.com