How To Establish Clear Policies For Your Teen’s Tech Use


Technology has transformed our world so thoroughly that our kids cannot imagine life without gadgets. They expect to have access to these devices 24/7, but their expectations aren’t always realistic.

Computers, the Internet and smartphone apps can be tremendous assets to learning, but they can also be significant detractors unless parents establish clear policies for their use.

If gadgets are interfering with your child’s schoolwork, try these easy solutions:

Establish a daily period free of electronics.

When your child returns from school, allow screen access to the computer, cell phone and video games for an agreed upon period of time.  Then turn the electronics off. In many families, afternoon screen time is limited to half hour. But whatever time allotment you establish, you must stick with it. You may also want to have a small box or container labeled “electronics go here.” That way you’re not holding out your hand asking for your child’s beloved cell phone. This neutral zone makes the transition less confrontational. It also limits the child’s urge to sneak calls, texts, or games while doing homework.

Trust but verify

After you verify that the homework is done, let your child retrieve his electronics. This usually includes checking completed assignments against what has been recorded in your child’s planner or posted online by their teachers. Be sure to praise your child for a job well done.

Consider returning electronics in the evening if work is done well.

If your child likes to rush through homework just to have access to his gadgets, consider a later time for returning them. You may find that about an hour after dinner works well. By this time homework should be out of the way unless an extracurricular activity is thrown in the mix.

Having a routine decreases conflict because kids know what to expect.

Even if your child’s schedule is different every day, stick to a routine as much as possible. For example, if your child returns home from school at 4:00 and has half an hour of screen time, then homework would start at 4:30. The electronics can be collected from the basket by your child at 7:00 p.m. If, for example, he has soccer practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30, still allow him access for a half hour after school. Expect that he start his homework before practice and then work on it again immediately after dinner when he returns. On those evenings, he may not earn screen time until his work is completed.

Depending on the age of your child, you may be wondering…

What if he needs the computer for research?

The answer is to allow him to print out information needed for the writing portion of the assignment. That way he’ll have the information, but won’t have continuous and distracting access to the Internet.

What if he needs to type his homework?

If your teen has a computer in his room, but constantly surfs the Internet when he should be doing homework, disable the internet connection to his desk and limit his machine to run word processing and other office programs only.

What should I do if I see him online or texting when he should be doing homework?

Once you establish a “no screen” time, you must enforce it.  Let’s say your policy is in effect from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. If he breaks the rule, penalize him an hour and restrict his use until 8:00 p.m.

She says she focuses better when multitasking. Is this true?

No. In fact, studies show that when kids continually multitask they lose the ability to focus on one thing at a time. Picture your daughter with earphones in while listening to her iPod, texting furiously, and checking her Facebook page all at the same time. This is common, but not productive. The problem is that when kids try to concentrate on just one task, such as reading or studying, they’re less able to sustain the attention needed because they are so accustomed to stimulation from multiple sources. Even though you can discourage this type of behavior, you cannot stop it. You can, however, eliminate it during homework time.

She says she can’t focus without music. Should I allow her to listen?

There may be something to her claims. A small group of students does study better with background music. If your child is productive when listening to her iPod, allow its use; however, if she is constantly distracted, then music may not be helpful.  In fact, recent studies show that the majority of students retain more information while studying for tests when there is no background music.

By setting limits and boundaries, you will be helping to create a positive and productive homework environment.  And good habits formed now will pay off throughout the high school and college years.



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