Ten Commandments for Digital Parenting

So what do we do?

Yes, children are lonelier, more entitled and less patient than generations before them… but we can help them.  There is a solution.

When our son was an infant, and his muscles were extremely tight (they had been trained to be tight due to lack of space & fluid in utero), our neurologist gave me the best piece of advice I’d ever heard: “You can retrain his muscles.” He told me that I could train his brain to help his muscles. It was going to be a long road, but in the end, it worked. This situation is not much different.

We train our kids to use the bathroom; we train our kids to brush their teeth in the mornings, we train our kids to sit patiently through a church service. These are learned skills, not skills that they are born with, but skills that we have taught them through repetition and consistency.

  1. Ten Minutes a Day.
    Reconnect with your kids.  Have one-on-one time with each child for ten minutes a day.  NO electronics, NO iPads or tables, NO television.  Let your child be your guide (They pick the activity).   This time alone is going to eliminate any guilt that you feel (because we all feel guilt) and it is going to allow you to connect you with your child.
    Get back to what we did before phones (back to what our parents did when we were young), spending time playing games with our kids.
    You can use something simple like these one-on-one time cards (print them, cut them out & grab one a day)
  2. Let Them Be Bored.
    What if instead of trying to keep our kids busy and keep them from feeling bored, we just LET them be bored. What if we said, “Oh- you’re so lucky to be bored.”
    Don’t offer an electronic device to keep them busy, don’t offer to take them somewhere. Just let them be bored.
    -Watch your child’s mind becomes quiet and watch his interests take over.
    -Watch as it leads him to create his own fun.
    -Watch as his need or instant gratification fades away.
    Boredom is the path to learning about one’s self.  
  3. Swap out external rewards for intrinsic rewards.
    I used to race the clock when cleaning my room:  creating my own fun.
    I used to pretend to be the teacher when doing my homework: creating my own fun.
    Teach your kids to do this.  Let them think of ways to turn dull tasks into fun tasks and let them reap the reward of knowing that they did a great job because this is the kind of “reward” that will motivate them throughout life.
  4. Spend dinnertime talking, spend car time talking, drop everything that you are doing when your kids get home from school to TALK to them for a few minutes (learn what is going on in their lives… academic, social, emotional).  Make dinner without having the TV on, the phone close by, or the tablet tuned into something.
  5. Give Responsibilities. 
    Chores are about so much more than just cleaning.  Responsibilities increase their self-worth.  It teaches them how to work.  It teaches them to take care of things.  It teaches them how to be part of something bigger than themselves.
    “To develop a high self-esteem a person needs a purpose. A key component to high self-esteem relies on how you view yourself regarding contribution. In other words, in the child development process, chores are a big role in a kid’s self-esteem.” ~Impact Parenting.com
    (Here are some printable chore cards that might help)
  6. Set Boundaries. 
    Have a set bedtime.
    Have set snacking rules (no snacks before dinner, or only one piece of junk food a day.)
    Have a set reading time (You could have ‘E.A.R. time’ before bed –> Drop Everything And Read.)
  7. Set Electronic Boundaries. 
    We have a simple rule: No electronics throughout the school week UNLESS it is a show that we are all watching together on the TV.   This means No laptop usage (unless it’s school-related), no tables, no iPods, no phones, no videos.   If we finish getting ready for school quickly in the morning, we might watch a show together. If My husband and I are watching Jeopardy or Planet Earth, they are welcome to join in.     (Most kids have a LOT of tech time at school – they don’t need it at home.) 

They are permitted to use them: on Saturday morning, on Sunday morning (if they are ready for church and have time before we leave), on long car-trips (vacation, etc…).

Exceptions: Doctor’s offices,  all day sporting events, Car-line (school pickup can sometimes be 45 minutes.  Our youngest child sits with me while we wait to pick up her siblings.  She is allowed to have her Leap Pad in the car line to watch learning videos or play an educational game.)

  1. Have Open Communication: 
    Let them know that you are there for them.  “If you are ever feeling sad or left out about something and it becomes too big for you to handle easily, come to me.”    I remind our kids that I am always here for them, to talk through problems, just listen, pray for them, give them advice… or not.  “I’m here… for you… all the time.Remind them often.
  2. Put down YOUR phone. 
    Make a rule with yourself that you will limit YOUR online distractions when your kids are home. Set a time that you can put electronics away (for our family – it’s 3:30, when they get home from school until 8:00, when they go to bed).
    Kids need to feel that connection with their parents.   My friend once told me that she overheard a child saying that her “mom’s phone was more important” than her. She was six years old at the time.   When asked why she felt this way, the little girl said it was because her mom liked to look at the phone more than her – even when the little girl was talking.  Kids notice everything. 
  3. Teach by Example. 
    If you want your child to change, you must first make a change.   Show your children where your priorities lie.  Family, your spouse, etc… act the way that you want your child to act and they will quickly follow your lead.  Let your child see you reading a book, washing dishes, making dinner, having conversations where you sit and look the person in the eye. Demonstrate kindness, consistency, hard-work.
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drlalith

Profile Dr Lalith Mendis Dr Lalith Mendis topped his batch on his graduation from Colombo Medical Faculty in 1976. He won the coveted Final MBBS top student’s Herath Guneratne memorial Prize & gold medal, Prof Rajasuriya Clinical Medicine Prize, Pharmacology Medal, Pathology Medal. He passed the MRCP (Part 1) in 1978. He was Clinical Registrar, Dept of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine (1979 – 1980) & moved to Pharmacology. He won the Commonwealth Scholarship in 1979. His last academic post was as Lecturer in charge Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Kelaniya (1993 – 1999). Dr Lalith Mendis is the Founder Director of the Empathic Learning Centre, He has researched the effect of digital overuse on children & youth and developed empathic therapies to reverse inattention, impulsivity & hyperactivity. Dr Mendis hosts the monthly Digital Forum at his centre and has delivered lectures & conducted seminars on this theme in leading schools & Corporates in Colombo. He has also lectured in Germany, Malaysia & UK. Author of five books on the topic, his books Right Learning & Recovering Childhood, Children Our Heritage & Let the Children Come to Me are in their second print. His books are available from all major bookstores in Colombo. His latest book “Parenting Heart & Brain - in an age of digital domination” has a preface from the former Dean of the Medical faculty of Colombo. “I have been seeing children affected by too much cartoon abuse. This is not about ADHD but normal children with agitation & hyperactivity & inattention in studies”.

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