QMy 12-year-old loves her iPad — much more than her schoolwork. I’ve recently restricted device use to days when she is done with her work and her grades reflect good effort. The drama on the other days is intense. Her father is inclined to banish the iPad altogether. I’m not sure. Any thoughts?
Parents all over the world are waging battles, both small and large, against the ever-encroaching technology in our children’s lives.
And as if this weren’t tiring enough, we are flying a bit blind. Most of us didn’t grow up with any technology like this. Our parents didn’t have these battles, so we don’t have a norm to which we can refer. We, right now, are creating the norms! And it is a bit of a mess, isn’t it?
Here is what has not changed in parenting: setting limits and holding to those limits when the going gets tough.
Every parent has created a rule for the good of his or her children, just to watch those children throw epic fits, use foul language and fight against the rule. It leaves everyone exhausted, worried and frustrated.
This is part of the parenting gig.
It just is.
But, for the sake of clarification, let’s take a closer look at what makes a good boundary.
An effective boundary or rule:
●Is not made in the heat of the moment. Unless you are saving life or limb, a rule created in anger and frustration will inevitably become impossibly burdensome to uphold, weakening your leadership as a parent.
●Is appropriate for the developmental age of the child. For instance, a parent who expects a 3-year-old to remember to clean her bedroom floor every afternoon or no “Sesame Street” is setting an inappropriate rule. Most 3-year-olds cannot remember to clean every day; their brains are too immature.
●Does not ever place the relationship between parent and child in jeopardy. For instance, you do not take away your affection, love, presence or kindness as a consequence for breaking the rule. A boundary does not involve stonewalling, the silent treatment, timeouts or being sent away to a bedroom. When angry separation between parent and child occurs, the boundary turns into a punishment. A punishment serves to shame, blame, and cause pain (which instantly removes any chance at growth).
● May feel unpopular, uncool or behind the times. Rational and kind boundaries are not meant to control, and they can’t be made out of fear. Rather, parents seek to provide safety. We want to help our children mature into a place where they can better handle their emotional and physical lives. Here’s a great analogy I heard in the Parent Encouraging Program (PEP): Boundaries are not an overly tight seat belt, nor are they small warning signs in the distance. An effective boundary, instead, is like the guardrails along a cliff-side road. The guardrails don’t steer the car, but they protect the driver if there is a mishap or error in judgment.
●Can bring about a great deal of frustration and upset. Just because you, the parent, are making responsible and sound decisions does not mean the 12-year-old is going to appreciate it. There will be pushback, accusations of ruination of lives and probably some tears. This is all normal. Of course, it is no fun for the parent or the child to go through this, but it is a necessary part of parenting. You must step in to ensure your child can grow to her fullest potential; that’s your job.
So, as you can see, I love a good boundary! But let me give you a couple of warnings with regard to your letter.
When it comes to technology, most children (and adults, for that matter) are powerless against it. While 12-year-olds are usually pretty self-sufficient, many are easily sucked in and have a great deal of trouble letting go of technology. It’s important for parents to remember that technology hijacks brains. Period. That makes technology boundaries tough to uphold, but even more important to create and keep.
Don’t take the iPad away altogether. At least, not yet. This will probably be viewed by your daughter as an act of war, and the power struggle may end up hurting your relationship. Studies are showing (over and over) that taking something away completely results in more defiance, more sneakiness and more rule-breaking from the child. So, let’s see if this option can be avoided.
Also, do not tie the withholding of the iPad to getting certain grades. Though you don’t mean to, you have set up a bribery situation, and few things get humans more off-track than being bribed. It devalues positive aspects of our character (integrity, self-esteem, self-worth, intrinsic motivation, etc.) and promotes negative ones (greed, extrinsic motivation, comparison, jealousy, insecurity, just to name a few). Ask yourself, “What do I really want for my daughter?” You want her to be able to work effectively, be proud of her effort and continue to grow. Grades may or may not be the result of that effort, but don’t tie what she loves into it. It’s a dark hole that many parents regret falling into.
Finally, as you are upholding your boundaries and family life is feeling fraught and tense, insert fun, laughter and connection. Remind your daughter, daily, that you love her and that you are really looking forward to the next fun outing you have together.
When it is iPad time for her, ask her to teach you a game or show you a cool app. Better yet, have a fun one up your sleeve to show her (I like www.coolmompicks.com for ideas). Make a Vine together or create a photo book as a gift for someone. The point being that I want you, the parent, to do the reaching out to her. Find small and easy ways to connect and smile.
Remember, upholding a boundary is not always pleasant or easy, but it is the right thing to do!
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Also at washingtonpost.com Read a transcript of a recent live Q&A with Leahy at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also find past columns. Her next chat is scheduled for June 10.