Just give kids the screens
Before Coronavirus spread we used to have strict rules with children and their access to mobile devices.
My oldest child is in 3rd grade. For her first year in school, we have purchased a cheap Chinese smartwatch to keep a connection with her. Nothing fancy. It is just a watch with a place for a sim card. It has no keyboard, it allows sending and receiving voice messages, placing phone calls, and receiving ones from a predefined list of white-listed numbers. It had no games, no Web browser, and nothing to chat with.
GPS tracking onboard the watch was a handy feature.
Everything was going fine for about 2 months until we lost it. Well, she did not lose it outside the house. The watch’s battery drained on one of the weekends and we couldn’t find it anymore.
No big deal. I ordered another pair of watches. They arrived and the first one got broken after 4 months because of the excessive use and abuse it received from the kid.
The second one did not wait long and got drowned in the shower.
This time I have pulled an old phone from my secret collection of antique devices. This is where the action starts.
We tried many things in order to find our unique way of living with the phone. We’ve been through controlled time usage and unlimited one, selective installation of apps and free, shared accounts and personal ones.
We’ve gone all the way to developing a mobile application for chatting with kids.
After a year we have settled with an approach that was acceptable for all, flexible enough for the child and was providing everybody a way to stay connected and continue having fun.
There were rules, everybody had to follow:
- 1.5 hours screentime per day.
- No phone is allowed in the kitchen, the bedroom or the bathroom.
- The phone is not blocked during morning school preparation routines.
- Smaller brothers are allowed to use the phone on weekends only.
Parents had to follow the rules as well.
Kids and parents have to follow the same rules or nothing will work
As the pandemic started spreading around the World, everything’s got broken.
We’ve been trying to persist with the rules for about 2 weeks of being at home but we gave up and unleashed the time limitations, abandoned all the agreements and allowed kids to decide what to do with their devices.
Well, one agreement stayed — no phone is allowed at the kitchen table.
What are the rules that will help you get through the quarantine without harming your kids, spoiling the relationships?
And, please, stop feeling guilty!
You are not a bad parent. Our mental resources are limited and we need help in fighting the stress we live through.
1. Explain the anarchy is temporary
The key to communicating with kids is projecting the expectations, conditions, and consequences.
Every new rule or situation has to be explained. If “this” then “that”.
- “If you wash your hands, you will be healthy and all of us we’ll stay healthy too”
- “8 o’clock is the time for you to go to bed. As we go to bed we stop speaking, do not play and do not walk around. If you keep walking around I will not be able to wash your clothes and you will have to go to school in pajama”. My kid went once to kindergarten in pajama and this ended all future negotiations.
- “I removed limitations from your tablet. You have to understand that the situation is temporary until the World goes to normal. As it happens, we will turn the limitation back.”
2. Devices have to be taken good care of
Every device keeps working if used with care. This is not a toy. We should avoid throwing them, taking to the bathroom or leaving in the middle of the room unattended.
If we do not use them, they have to be connected to a charger so the next day we can continue using it.
And don’t forget to wash your hands after the bathroom!
3. Arrange alternatives that can attract children
Ask kids what they want to do before you hand them the devices. Drawing is great and you might think about finding an online course. There are many of them available now.
Some kids dream about cooking something. Give them components and let them do mess in the kitchen. You will have to clean everything after but 1–2 hours of silence is priceless.
You’ll see — kids prefer the kitchen mess over the tablets.
4. Express concern about the things they do with devices
Even though a child spent the whole day in some kind of a crazy game, ask what is this game about. Try to understand the gameplay and what should be done there. Ask permission to play the game too. The kid will really enjoy seeing you doing the same.
You will never be required to ask again. Your kid will be excited to tell you about every new game played. You will receive full control without ever controlling.
5. Help them find a way in the world of applications
Suggest services you use or trust. Don’t just leave kids alone with their decision because they will end up installing all the trash the stores have.
Skype is for calling grandma. She is at home and will be happy to talk at any time.
HedzApp is for sending family alerts to dad, brothers and a cousin that lives in another city. It can also be used to send a short voice message to grandad.
Youtube is a nice thing for watching videos. It supports voice-typing which is good for the little ones that are unable to write and read.
Help them decide about the main apps and you will have your peace of mind.
Oh, and limiting the app rank helps a lot too. We have specified 3.5 as the minimal allowed rank for apps.
6. Use monitoring tools
Parental controlling tools nowadays are developed by every antivirus company. There are plenty of solutions on the market. We’ve tried many of them but the majority are very complicated, require payment and are overwhelmed by settings and customizations that are rarely used and take time to master.
Google Family Link is a great alternative if you have Android devices. Is it developed by a well-respected company, it has just the right amount of functionality and it is free for 5 family members. You can install it on kids’ devices as well as yours and your partner.
It provides time controlling functions (this is how we follow the daily 1.5 hours rule), it blocks installation of apps until you approve them from your phone and it shows the phone on the map, while HedzApp also attaches location to every message response.
7. Draw the border around the device-free zone
Having such territory will help your kid with all the rest of the rules as well.
For us, prohibiting the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom helped in keeping devices safe and allowed visual contact of what children doing with the devices.
Be safe and honest!
Honesty is the key to peace in the family.