Help your tween focus by limiting distractions

Many parents wonder how to cope with an older child’s busy digital lifestyle. With TV, tablets and mobile phones, it seems like they’re always texting, chatting on Facebook, playing games or watching videos. But it’s important for parents to be able to set limits on those activities and create time for face-to-face conversations, healthy physical exercise, reading books and magazines, or getting some quiet time without all those distractions.

First of all, you need to realize that digital, mobile and social media is an important part of your child’s lifestyle. Forget about the telephone or even email — this is how the younger generation connects with each other. Taking away a child’s iPhone or tablet after a misdeed is not something to do lightly.

Instead, it’s better to monitor your child’s behavior for a week or two to determine if he or she is spending too much time watching those rectangular screens.  For example, many children watch far more television than the two hours a day that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for older children.

Other “tweens” and teens carry their phones everywhere and send out thousands of text messages a month. That’s a serious loss of face-to-face time, not to mention the financial burdens. Other children find it hard to concentrate on homework while chatting with friends of Facebook, playing games online or downloading songs, videos or the latest mobile application.

Once you have identified a problem, gather your facts and sit down with your child to discuss the situation. After all, it’s better to negotiate an agreement before the situation escalates into a blowup.

Tips on setting limits

As a parent, you have the right to set realistic limits for your children that address your concerns without causing daily conflicts. Here are some suggestions for setting limits:

  • Set a goal for the desired behavior. For example, “I want to see your homework grades increase this semester,” or “I want you to spend at least an hour a day reading without your TV, computer or phone.”
  • Be clear about the limit. Ask your child to repeat it so you know she understands it.
  • Be sure you can measure and monitor the limits. It’s easy to enforce a rule of “no more than 25 texts a day” when you can see the usage in your monthly bill.               
  • Set realistic consequences for breaking the limits. If your child watches more than the allotted two hours of daily TV in her room, you might unplug her cable box or disconnect her satellite hookup for a week.
  • Be firm. After setting a limit, don’t back down.
  • Stay calm. Don’t get drawn into a fight about whether a rule is fair.
  • Be consistent. Don’t set a limit one day and ignore it the next day.
  • Be positive. Talk about the benefits of physical exercise, family conversation, doing more reading and the importance of a balanced lifestyle.
  • Reward good behavior. You might give your child a special treat or do some of his household chores if he respects the limit.
  • Finally, it’s important for you to watch your own actions. If your rule is “no texting at the dinner table,” turn off your own smartphone, or leave it in another room. By setting a good example of a balanced lifestyle, you’ll help your child learn there’s more to life than Twitter!

Sara Rivero-Conil, Psy.D. is a psychologist with Miami Children’s Hospital.

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