June 23, 2024


Science It Works

Parents who raise ‘well-rounded’ kids never use these 4 phrases, says tech education expert

Despite having spent my career at the intersection of technology and education, it wasn’t until my wife and I became parents that we realized how unprepared we were to help our kids thrive in an increasingly digital world.

We would find ourselves repeating the same things to them, with most of the statements just focused on screen time. But those statements didn’t always deliver the message we wanted.

The way we talk to our kids about using technology can have a huge impact on their ability to become smart and well-rounded adults. After years of researching how to moderate kids’ screen time, I discovered how the most successful parents help their kids find balance.

Here are four common screen-time statements they don’t use — along with examples of what to say instead:

1. “You’re addicted to your phone.”

This statement may be the most common of all, but it’s a confusing message for a child.

In most cases, it’s not the device itself that’s addictive, but a particular app or website that, when used continually, can create imbalance or even addiction.

In order to reframe this statement, state what the real concern is. Is the problem that your kid isn’t participating in physical-world activities that you think are important?

If so, instead of communicating that you have a problem with the amount of time they’re spending on a device, reframe with a compelling reason to do something else.

Examples of reframed statements:

  • “It doesn’t seem like you’ve gotten any exercise yet today.”
  • “I noticed you haven’t spent any time with your family since you’ve gotten home from school; let’s do that for a bit so we can balance out how you spend your day.”

2. “You’ve been playing that game for too long.”

This statement also focuses on the amount of time your kids are spending on a single digital activity. And it’s problematic because it doesn’t address what’s wrong with the activity.

They might even notice that if they were watching a movie — also on a screen — for the same two hours, you probably wouldn’t say anything at all.

The digital balance reframe requires parents to evaluate the qualities of the game. If you feel the game has less value than other digital activities, then call that out.

Examples of reframed statements:

  • “It seems like this game is getting more of your attention than it deserves, given the fact that it’s mostly based on repetition and luck.”
  • The statement above might lead to a conversation about the value of different apps installed on the device and whether they give a better return on the invested attention. Parents could ask something like, “What other activities do you want to do with the time you spend on your phone today?”

3. “Stop sitting around on the computer all day.”

This is an especially confusing message if the suggestion for a replacement activity is to read a book.

Reading a book, it turns out, is even less active than using a device. I’m not saying that reading isn’t a good activity for a kid to find balance in that moment. It’s just that the reason given, “stop sitting around,” makes no sense to a kid who is offered an alternative activity that involves just as much sitting around.

Also, it’s entirely possible that your kid was reading a book on their device in the first place. The goal is to be as specific as possible about why you think the activity is out of balance.

Examples of reframed statements:

  • If the concern is that they’re not spending enough time reading, that’s a great conversation to have. You might discuss the importance of making sure there is reading time, on or off a device, at some point during each day.
  • If the concern is a need for physical activity, the reframe would be less about not using the computer and more about finding an appropriate time to go for a bike ride or a run.

4. “You need to interact with real people.”