How to ‘Unplug’ Your Kid’s Tech Addiction

How to ‘Unplug’ Your Kid’s Tech Addiction

The global pandemic has changed the world on a macro level, but it has also reshaped the microcosm of our family routines. Once, screen time was a special treat for my kids, saved for weekends and movie nights. Oh, but then all the schools closed. And the daycares. Suddenly, screens became school, or vice versa, and the days got a hell of a lot longer.

My daughter has been surprisingly ok with this. While she misses her teachers and the classroom environment, it turns out she really likes doing her schoolwork on the computer. And chatting with her friends on Zoom. And staying in touch using Messenger Kids. And YouTube. Oh, YouTube.

To put it another way, my 8-year-old is now a tech addict, like her father (and mother) before her. And especially now that school is over and both her parents are still working, it is becoming a problem — but we’ve landed on a solution to help us (and her) deal with it.

Tired of the constant fighting about what she’s doing on the computer and when, we figured out a way to make her device — in this case, our family’s sole non-work-provided laptop — into a limited resource: simply take away the power cord.

She now begins every day with a full battery charge — about four hours of heavy use on this 2015 Macbook — and she’s allowed to use it up in any manner she sees fit. If she wants to watch DrawSoCute videos on YouTube for two hours straight? Fine. If she wants to Zoom with her besties, even better. If she wants to read one book after another on Epic, great. But when the battery dies, she’s out of time for the day, and she has to figure out what to do next.

In theory, this is teaching her a bunch of useful skills: Impulse control. How to prioritise. How to keep her own schedule. How to occupy herself when screens aren’t an option. In practice, it has been… a transition. As a general rule, kids aren’t the best at self-regulating, and their skills at it develop over time. Even at 8, my kid struggles with concepts like delayed gratification — she doesn’t want to deal with the fact that she needs to stop DMing now if she wants to watch a craft video later. But she’s getting better every day — and the fact that she can see her computer time ticking down in the corner of the screen keeps it top of mind for her and helps quell the emotional outbursts when it comes time to close the laptop for the day.

If the battery life on the devices your kids use is too long to be used up in one day, you might adjust the amount of time between charges, though at this point I can’t imagine going more than two days. I mean, let’s be realistic.

Her progress has been encouraging enough, in fact, that I’m considering implementing something similar for myself. I need to use a computer all day for work, but considering I spend almost all my time at home, there’s no reason I need to be on my phone all day, too. So, I’ll charge my ageing iPhone overnight and I can only use it as long as the battery lasts. Hopefully this will keep me from trying to keep one eye on Slack and Twitter while I play with my kids in the evenings, since I won’t want to just stare into the existential abyss after they’ve gone to bed.

I’m really going to do this. I swear. I’ll start… tomorrow.

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