Unplugging Plugged-In Kids

pluggedinkids1With the prevalence of electronic everything, I’m finding that many kids – even little ones – are so plugged in that they won’t hold a conversation or sustain attention. This is, at a minimum, annoying and rude; and at worst, creating a generation woefully deficient in interpersonal communication and concentration skills.

Still, simply confiscating their i-Everythings is not effective; you will become the enemy and your message will be lost in their fury. Much better to employ a strategy that has a chance for success and won’t paint you as a Luddite with an agenda.

Determine the times and places where you will allow usage. On the car ride en route to the dentist? Sure. During dinner? Never. After homework is done, yes. Before the chores are done? No.

Investigate the limitations you can employ on your family phone plan. My account has a mechanism that allows me to turn my kids’ phones off during school hours, after bedtime, during dinner, or whenever the mood moves me. For safety’s sake, it allows calls or texts to 5 specific numbers in the event of emergency, even when the service is cut off. So, my kids have the ability to call five safe numbers (me, my husband, the house phone, and two neighbors) when the phone is restricted. Full disclosure: if you are in a wifi zone, they can get around it somewhat, but it’s better than nothing.

pluggedinkids2Enforce a “Your House, Your Rules” policy, but be realistic. During dinner, simply ask the plugged in nieces/nephews/friends to put away earphones/phones/GoogleGlass, etc. Say something like: “We really want to hear about what’s going on in school/dance/lacrosse/chess club. Why don’t you join us for dinner, and you can plug back in afterwards.” To really make the point, set a bowl or basket out to hold the electronics during the meal.

In order to execute this plan successfully, you must be comfortable correcting other people’s children. As a former seventh grade teacher, this is not an issue for me, but that is not the case for everyone. Make sure you direct your request to the kids, not the parents (who may permit this hideous practice and are therefore unlikely to enforce your rule). This strategy also avoids the invariable scapegoating comment as in: “Aunt Keri won’t let you listen to your music here. Turn your i-Pods off.”

And finally, if it becomes a battle, let it be. Tell your kids, “Different families have different rules.” Leave un-uttered the next sentence: “Aunt Bess does not mind that her children are rude, anti-social little trolls.”

Most importantly, pick your battles. If letting Junior watch a YouTube video of a cat playing a piano prevents him from waging WWIII with his sister while you’re helping your mother file a health insurance claim, or finishing an important project for work, then it’s worth it. But if it’s merely a palliative for boredom, you may want to offer some alternatives.

Watch for an upcoming post with a list of suggested activities!

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keriwhiteheadshotKeri White has been blogging about etiquette, parenting, food, and lots of other things since 2006. She has served as the Etiquette Correspondent for WTXF-TV inPhiladelphia and has written advice and parenting columnsforseveral newspapers and magazines. Prior to her career in writing and parenting, she was an award-winning seventh grade teacher, which provided her with significant experience correcting other people’s children and telling people what to do. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. Keri lives in Philadelphia with her husband Matt, her two children, Cormick and Kelsey and their cat, Gershwin. Her book, The Mommy Code, a humorous and useful guide to parenting in the modern world, was released in January, 2014.

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