On average, children use technology for seven hours a day. But what about when they don’t have school and it’s too cold to do anything outside?

If you are a parent who is wondering about your choices for allowing tech in your house, you’re not alone. It’s not realistic to live tech free — unless you have a teen who is addicted to tech, then you have to eliminate it. Even kids ages 6 and older are exposed in school through computer learning games, technology class and reading e-books on classroom Nooks.

So given that your child will be using some form of technology by age 6, in school anyway, what is realistic in terms of curbing tech use?

Be prepared.

Ask yourself how good you are at setting limits because you’ll need to do this.

Make a plan that includes tech management at the start of each day. Enlist the kids by making them agree to be accountable for their tech time or face losing tech time. The rule of thumb for healthy tech use during a school break is an hour of tech time after an hour of some other activity. Provide choices for non-tech activities such as doing indoor exercise, playing a board game, reading or watching a movie as a family — which I don’t count as tech time because it’s a family activity.

During free time, consider enrolling kids in organized activities at the YMCA or other organization that provide activities for kids.

Know the signs and symptoms of tech obsession.

Kids get addicted to technology the more they use it.

Kids’ moods decrease when they overuse technology.

Kids get anxious in the absence of tech if they have an overreliance on it. They “have to be connected” or they are missing something.

Kids get obstinate and defiant when tech is taken from them if they have become addicted to it.

Develop a routine you can enforce.

Here’s some advice:

No gaming system in the bedroom or in a place that can’t be monitored.

Set a routine around tech that you can implement and expect pushback with some attempted manipulation.

No tech first thing in the morning.

Have an alternative activity even if it means you have to participate in it — playing cards, making a meal like breakfast and planning the day to get physical components to it.

Invite other kids over with the understanding they will all play a board game.

Allow tech after a physical activity: pushups and situps or go for a walk as a family.

Don’t allow tech for more than one hour at a time. Even if your kids are going to be using tech four to five hours a day in a highly unusual case, don’t allow them to use it continually for more than one hour.

Have random checks on your kids’ activities.

Always have screen-free zones and times, and stick to those rules yourself.

The younger the kids are, the easier it is to manage them, so limit tech today. Don’t wait!

Typically, kids who overuse tech want it more and more regardless of whether it’s a vacation week. For kids who overuse tech, they can become upset and manipulative when parents set limits. They won’t like you or your decision to limit or eliminate their tech use.

Be prepared, and expect that the initial days will be challenging. Get support from other like-minded adults, and know that there is no point in arguing with a tech-obsessed child. Remember that, as the parent, what you say goes and kids will accept that if you stand strong behind your position. 

Dr. Kate Roberts is a licensed child and school psychologist and family therapist on the North Shore. Ask a question or make a comment at kate@drkateroberts.com.

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