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VOICES

Opinion Advice for parents on how to push back on their kids' use of technology

Psychotherapist Helen Browne has some tips for parents and children navigating a world crammed with technology.

NO HOUSEHOLD IN Ireland can have survived the last two years without screen time increasing, and now that life has returned almost to normal (whatever that looks like in your household) we may need a re-boot.

Even if you finger-painted your way through lockdown life, recognising the need to push back on technology can be beneficial for everyone.

Let’s not forget the positives – the X-Box or TV provides entertainment for adults and children alike, especially when they play together, but every parent has experienced challenges when managing screen time.

Pull back, reset

For younger children, if you find that the transition to the off switch has become difficult, it might be time for a reset. Don’t be afraid to admit when you have let things slip. Try saying something like:

I know I let you play/watch for longer last night, but I noticed you were tired this morning, and I realised I should have made sure to turn it off earlier.

Consistency is the watchword, which means that everyone is clear about when and for how long screen time is going to happen. Consider writing down rules and keeping them in a prominent place. However, even with the most delightfully colour-coded screen time plan, conflict can occur.

This is when consistency is the biggest challenge. It’s the most natural thing in the world to try to avoid a major meltdown by giving in to a request for ‘5 more minutes’ but if you can stick to your plan, then the chances of you being tested at another time are greatly reduced.

Help them to feel understood at such moments by acknowledging their upset:

I understand that you are really cross about turning your game off, but you’ll get to play it again tomorrow.

For teenagers, the push back will usually be around their phones. Again, the positives: having a phone is hugely convenient. For teenagers, being connected with others online builds friendships and involvement in social activities.

House rules, however, still apply, and if yours have slipped, start by looking at some of the simple ones. Collaboration is a useful addition to consistency here.

Consider having a phone place or bowl in the kitchen, where all the phones in the house ‘live’. For example, when your teen arrives home, the phone can be in the phone place until you have checked in with each other first.

Phones can also stay put when you are eating together or engaged in a family activity, or when visitors are over. Discuss how you can all remind each other, gently, of the agreed rule.

Vigilance

When the phone is being used, be observant. If your teen is responding positively to what they are seeing on their phone when looking at videos or messages, you can encourage them to share by asking something like:

I could do with a laugh, will you show me the video too?

If they are messaging a lot, you could show you are aware by simply stating:

Looks like you are having an interesting chat with someone!

The key thing here is to create an atmosphere of openness, even when they are having a private interaction with someone on the phone.

Of course, we cannot be aware of the content on a person’s phone if they are using it away from the living areas of the house, i.e. in their bedroom. Keep all the phones in the ‘phone place’ at night, including yours.

Eliminating the opportunity for your teenager to check their phone during the night means that they will sleep better. If the phone is being used as an alarm, buy an alarm clock – very vintage.

Pushing back on technology means a review for parents too. Asking ourselves about the example we set every day with our own screen time is crucial, as is being honest about some of the ways in which social media can both excite and upset us.

If those Instagram images or WhatsApp messages can make us doubt ourselves as fully grown adults, what might our teenagers be feeling? Go softly with any changes you make. Pushing back on technology can be a series of gentle nudges, without being a big shove.

Helen Browne M.I.A.C.P. is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples and member of the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

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Helen Browne M.I.A.C.P.
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