We get it. When obligations and responsibilities pile up and you have no other childcare options it's easy to give in to the temptation — you hand over your phone to pacify your bored little tot who's on the verge of throwing a fit.
Before you know it, it's not just him who's hooked but you too. While the tablet or the phone has got your kid in a hypnotizing trance, you get so used to the comfort it brings and the number of things you can do while your kids are sitting quietly in front of the screen. It's not an easy thing to give up both for you and your child.
But it's hard not to notice the mood swings, temper tantrums, migraines, irritability, and inability to focus on tasks, among many others. Your son wakes up earlier than everyone else and heads straight to the drawer to get his iPad. He barely talks to you because he's glued to the screen almost the entire day. He is fine playing with friends virtually.
It was happening to my 6-year-old son. I didn't want to end up with a boy with a screen dependency disorder. The decision I struggled with, however, was not whether he needed to cut back on screen time — he most definitely did. But how I was going to do it? Would there be a set time he could use his gadgets or we get rid of gadgets totally for at least one week?
I decided the best route was cold turkey (brave, right?) to nip his gadget addiction in the bud. Based on my experience, here's what you need to prepare for.
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The first gadget-free day will be the most difficult — for everyone.
Expect massive tantrums and cry fests. You’ll need lots of patience and time to explain the reason behind this to your child, calmly over and over again. He will not understand it at the beginning, and he will hate you for it. He will resent you for taking away what to him seemed like his fundamental right to use the phone for hours on end. You’ll need to be firm with this decision so you won’t crack and give in to his whims. Remember to give lots and lots of hugs.
You will be reminded of all those times you used the gadget as a substitute babysitter for far too long. You will remember the times you went way beyond the gadget use limit your pediatrician mentioned awhile back. You will question how and when his addiction got this bad.
Your kid won't be the only one crying during this time.
People might not understand why you needed to do this.
Weird but true. People who don’t understand the necessity will end up berating you for taking away something that seemed to make your kid so happy. There will be those who will feel this is, well, an attack on their parenting although deep inside, they probably wanted to do this but didn't have the courage to go for it.
Focus on what YOU need to do for YOUR kid, what you feel in your heart is necessary. You know your child best and understand what’s best for him.
It won’t always be that bad or that difficult. You will notice your child slowly getting used to not having a gadget to entertain himself. It will happen gradually, and you’ll need tons of patience to see changes. During the first few days, he might continue to ask for the gadget and continuously complain about getting bored and not having anything to do.
Be patient, consistent, and firm. And then repeat.
Expect to spend more time with your child.
He will need you around to help make sense of these changes. He will need someone to talk to about how he’s feeling, why what you’re doing is important, why you felt the need to enforce this new gadget use policy. He might get confused and frustrated, and he will need you to be there to calmly explain to him what’s happening.
This means time to help him because you need to show him that, yes, it’s possible to be away from the gadget and still have fun. Before you know, you are all playing shadow figures before bedtime and teaching them lutu-lutuan and bahaybahayan.
It’s hard to enforce a rule you yourself cannot follow. If you tell your kid too much gadget use is not good for him but he sees doing the opposite, he will understandably get confused and frustrated. You will feel the need to evaluate how much time you spend on your gadgets.
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You’ll be delighted to see him getting on with life without a gadget in his hand.
Your gadget-freak kid will realize that there are so many things he can do and so many fun people to talk to when he’s not spending too much time in front of the screen. He might develop new hobbies, want to go out more, be interested in his toys and other people again. And by the time you start giving limited screen time, he’ll give it back willingly when the time’s up because he knows he’s got better things to do offline.
If you decide to cut your kid’s gadget time, you will need to think this through many times and make sure you are ready and have the time to guide your child through it. It’s a decision you can discuss with your spouse and all other caregivers in the house because you will need their help to make this successful.
It’s also important to acknowledge that each child is different. This worked for me but it might not work for you. Do what you feel in your heart is needed to help your kid.
It’s not going to be that easy, but with tons of patience and lots of love your kid can get through it in no time.