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Be the Parent

Compulsive cell phone use or video game hypnotism can be the bane of parenting. Actually, it seems that anything we give our children can take over their lives. Watching television or YouTube videos, playing video games, sitting with a screen lighting up their faces; electronic gadgets and screens can make a parent miserable.

Try getting your son’s attention when he’s watching something else. Whatever is being said or done outside his peripheral vision isn’t real. You don’t exist if you aren’t on the screen. You call her name a few times and then realize she is mesmerized by a five-inch screen. It’s pretty rough when you are upstaged by a flat screen when you are present in living color!

I’ve listened to parents who seem at their wits end over electronic devices or other compulsive temptations. “I just can’t get Noah’s attention; he always has his face in that darn screen,” or “What can break the hypnotic stare into that screen? I just don’t know what to do.”

The first step in breaking the cycle of screen addiction is be the parent. That’s right, quit acting like you are a powerless dishrag and take action. Don’t be intimidated by the lack of attention you receive from a child who would rather watch a video than listen to his dad.

When I say, “be the parent,” some parents hear me suggest ultimatums, demands and screaming. “Get off that thing or I’ll make you wish you’d never been born,” one parent screamed. As Dr. Charles Fay reminds us, if you are saying “I mean it,” you’ve probably already lost the battle.

When I say take action, I’m not talking about anything involving hitting, breaking or even snatching. Grabbing a phone will put fingernail marks on your arm. Maybe even bite marks. Then you are tempted to backhand your precious little tart and things will only get worse from there.

There’s no need to feel like a loser as a parent. Use an enforceable statement and say it in the loudest way possible…a whisper. Screaming makes kids avoid us and move away. Whispering makes kids lean forward and wonder what they missed. Try saying, “You can borrow my phone as long as I don’t need it and you give it back when I ask for it.” Notice that ownership of a phone isn’t for younger children.

Another guideline that Dr. Fay suggests is bedtime for phones. Children don’t need a TV or a phone in the room where they are supposed to be sleeping at night. Harmful effects and poor sleep habits have been traced to electronic devices used right before sleep. Bedrooms are for books, sheets and pillows. Screens are not welcome. Have your child return the phone to your safe keeping before they go to their rooms.

If your child’s phone cannot be trusted to behave, it deserves a time out. Keep the time out short so that it has plenty of room to grow on the second offense. Taking a phone away for a day the first time it misbehaves leaves too long between learning episodes. Couple this with the enforceable statement that phone use is tied directly to the willingness to give it up when asked.

In short, being the parent means setting some limits. Set limits you can enforce. Be predictable and model good habits yourself. If your child can’t get your attention because you are staring at a phone, there might be trouble on the horizon.

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