Is There Too Much Screen?  Guidelines On Establishing Household ‘Netiquette

Technology is constantly advancing and adapting and it’s a given that the young are always ahead of the parents on the techno-curve. It’s a given that many parents are looking back to the "good ol’ days" of their youth when they recall a simpler world – although their parents and grandparents seemed to always say the exact same thing. But the past ten years have provided an explosion both in the technological platforms available to people as well as forms themselves. While our predecessors also had to contend with the notion of yakking teens, it was contained by the simple phone technology so that unless a teen had their own phone in their room, or gasp, their own phone line, the amount of information and the number to whom it could be disseminated was limited.  For several years, the technology has gotten ahead of the social fabric and now the adults are starting to push back, as noted in The Guardian article on the rising tenor and amount of criticism of the effect of social media on today’s youth.

It’s natural for the adults to push back against change and the jury is very much out on the entire affair.  But the article does have a solid point on what one person refers to as the lack of "netiquette" amongst the users.  While the hue and cry is about the social networking sites, the problem goes back further to the entire presence of screens within the home.  Since the widespread availability of cable television and the ability to run lines to multiple rooms, the number of kids with their own bedroom televisions has grown to fully 70%.  With the TV in the room and the door shut, the parents have no real idea of the amount of time being spent on television and unfortunately, this carries over to the affiliated screen devices – laptops, PCs, and so on.  Given all of this, what can we do to help start to rein in the kids?

  1. If there’s a television in the room, consider whether or not to actually remove it.  Most parents are reluctant since the kids – of any ages – can frankly behave like asses in order to inflict enough of their own punishment to make the parent reconsider, but if the time is obviously creating issues then it should be considered.  There are devices that can be installed with parental codes to shut down the device after a predetermined period, such as TVAllowance, and this might be a decent alternative.
  2. Understand that you’re the parent and it’s entirely both your right and your responsibility to keep tabs on the kids habits.  Frankly, we’ve controlled the electronics and I still spend an inordinated amount of time kicking one kid or another off of a screen device.  Few children have mastered self-control and this is simply part of being a parent.  Deal with it.
  3. Establish ground rules apart from the simple daily amount of time.  What is unacceptable use of the device?  Trying to surf adult or mature sites?  Sexting or cyber bullying?  Texting at inappropriate moments?  While it’s imperfect, lay out the scenarios ahead of time and then list the consequences.  Most of the house rules pertain to the cell phone since there’s only one cable-ready television and the family PC is in the family room and the texting rules are fairly simple:  No texting or phone use when we’re at the table for any family meal; no texting or cell phone after 10 PM on any school night; no stopping something else just to respond to a text (if you’ve started a game with Youngest, finish the damned thing).
  4. Keep to the consequences.  Children who grow up knowing that the consequences are enforced will give you less grief when you have to do it.  Those who’ve been given more free rein will resist and this is where things can get ugly as the relationship can occasionally devolve into a test of wills.  You have to make a conscious decision as to how much argument you’ll tolerate and stick to it.
  5. Make sure that the house rules are followed by the other kids that come into the house because failing to enforce on others while enforcing rules on your own is sending a horrible message to the kids.  Don’t be surprised if other kids have a clue of the house rules already since kids talk.  Kids talk alot.
  6. Be careful of your own electronics use and whether or not it reflects the house rules.  Kids can smell hypocrisy a mile away and will point it out as happily as recent roadkill on the interstate.  Besides, time that you’re spending on electronics while the kids are around is time that you’re not spending with them.  That is perhaps the crucial element of being a father.
  7. Expect some confusion since what works at one age level simply doesn’t work at another.  I’m a firm believer in age appropriate and work hard to adhere to the philosophy that what’s okay for older kids is terrible for  younger ones but that means that there can be more gray areas and simple confusion as I try to keep up with things. 
  8. Expect pushback from the kids.  They’re testing limits and relationships and it’s likewise part of being a father.  It’s not easy, but it’s part of it.

There will be an ebb and flow to the electronics usage and there are times when it’s okay to let things go, such as on a snow day.  The proof will be in what you see when the kids aren’t online or onscreen.  How’s their weight?  How’s their sleep?  How are the grades?  How is their general behavior?  It will require regular evaluation and a whole lot of persistent effort.

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