Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Learning to set limits: Technology use and access

We get requests from parents often for advice on how to negotiate setting limits for kids using technology, especially in the household.

It's often a two fold problem:

1. excessive use

2. compartmentalizing distractions

Both of them are difficult challenges. There is no clear cut answer. Major studies are going on around the world on all these fronts.

Talking at a child is not the answer. Discussion is they key. Open, honest, caring discussion that involves reflection and learning to set some limits together will get you much further.

There is no magic fix. It's continuous hard work.

Remember… Same old problem, magnified

The same things our parents used to complain about, watching too much TV, spending too much time on the phone, listening to that album (vinyl) over and over again… all had value. Same problem in a new era, just magnified by the collaborative and immersive power of technology.

It's not the device... it's how you use it.

Here are some steps we encourage on this front to help.

1st step for parents: Reflect on your own practices before you start the conversation with kids

The first thing we recommend is for parents / guardians to look carefully at how they set examples for their children. For instance, asking your teenager not to text at the table or talk on the phone when you do these things regularly is a natural place for conflict to begin.

Be prepared to answer these questions about your usage.

Keep in mind, statements like ‘because I said so,’ and ‘because I’m an adult’ generally cause a lot of conflict.

Emphasize the importance of quality communication and the ability to focus without contestant distractions

Multitasking is great… but it’s often a choice and not a necessity. At times, multi-tasking can be dangerous i.e. texting while driving. Try giving someone or something your undivided attention, especially during conversations as a first step.

Studying your usage might help


A free application called Moment is designed to run in the background and monitor how long you use a device and for what functions. Analyze data from many different days of the week. 

Have discussions on what you find.  Sometimes the usage numbers can be pretty shocking and help put things in perspective.

There is also a new study you can participate in called ‘Bored and Brilliant’ that’s free that might be a great discussion point.

Create simple technology use rules together

You'll be more likely to get your children to buy-in if you come up with screen-time rules together. Write up a contract that outlines clear, simple rules you agree on. Here are some examples:

  • No texting or other technology use during mealtime, either at home or a restaurant. Take the time to eat and talk.
  • No TV or technology use (for entertainment / gaming and  including messaging, social media use) until homework and chores are done
  • The TV and technology gets turned off at a set time at night. Give your brain time to relax, unwind.
    • Recommend extending these times for kids on Friday and Saturday night.
      • example: No gaming, social media, or texting one hour before bedtime Sunday - Thursday. 10-1030pm on Friday and Saturday.

Develop potential consequences together, write them down, and post them somewhere

What happens when things go wrong? 


‘I lost track of time and played a game until 2am!’

Having things agreed upon in advance is key so its not reactionary. A couple examples as discussion points:

  • The computer / device stays in and is only used in a public room in the home for set duration of time.
  • One parent described a consequence of ‘on the shelf, and turned off after 7pm’ as a penalty for two weeks that proved effective.

Earn back trust and privilege

Floating deadlines for consequences can create a lot of conflict. Set a duration for consequences that makes sense, stick to it, and reward improved behavior.

Important! Right penalty for the right problem

  • Set logical consequences. Don’t take away access to technology because your child didn’t take out the trash.

Common pitfalls. FAQs


“If I ask my son not to play games all the time, he shows me articles about how gaming actually builds communication and collaborative skills.”

There are numerous research studies going on about brain use regarding intense activity vs downtime, addiction, compulsion, and how things things affect our minds at different stages of development / age.

We recommend this discussion thread… “All things in moderation.” Set limits together. Establish a ‘social media free’ time. Read a book… and just read a book.

“My son will sit for hours and play games.”

Reading a book for 4 hours is just as sedentary as sitting and playing a video game for the same duration. That may be a good place to start a conversation. Is reading a book any less demanding on the mind than playing a video game? Playing chess for four hours? Watching TV for four hours? Talk about setting limits, timers, or the like that encourage other types of activity.

Everyone is physiologically and emotionally different. Limits for one person may not work for another.

If things are going well, be a little less concerned, but keep checking in. If your children are having problems pulling away from social media during conversations, getting homework done in a timely fashion, trouble getting to sleep… start setting limits and reward improvements.

“My daughter says she needs the device to do her homework and she can't shut it off.”

Ask if your child needs to communicate with others while doing homework. If they do, then ask that they limit messaging, social media, and games during that time. It’s no different than watching TV while doing homework. 

"Two hours of homework might take you four hours to finish if you’re heavily distracted."

Let's face it, we've all had trouble compartmentalizing work. Learning to give your brain and your body a rest is so very important to good health. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but an important one.


“My child won’t stop using the device, even when I say no.”

This is a tough scenario for a parent, especially with older children. Contact the BSD IT Department for assistance. The IT Department will collaborate with administration to help with your request.

When in doubt, keep the discussion lines open! We're here to help.


It's a challenge, but it's important to learn how to manage these devices and this level of connectivity in our lives. The capacity of the devices and accessibility is only going to continue to grow.