Recently, I was very disturbed by the issue of smartphones and iPad usage with my teens. I attended the Singapore Parenting Congress and learnt a lot from the speaker Chong Ee Jay. Mr Chong has been working with youths for the past 10 years and is currently the assistant manager of TOUCH Cyber Wellness. He shared with us many of his experiences where youths become so addicted to gaming and their gadgets that they can’t focus in school and even stop communicating with their parents entirely. There was a lot he touched on, which I will detail in another post.
One thing he mentioned was having house rules for gadget usage. He went as far as advising us that when we give our children their first phone, we should tell them that the phone is OURS, so we have the right to take it back if need be. Personally, I think that is very wise (especially if the child is still in primary school) because otherwise, if the child feels the phone is his, he will be very resentful if you take it away from him. For my kids, we give them a phone when they are in P6. Most parents tell me that their kids start asking for a phone from the time they are in P2. Well, they can ask, but it doesn’t mean that we need to give! #4 is in P4 and she has been asking for a phone as almost all her classmates own a phone. I told her there is no need for her to have a phone now as she takes the school bus home.
I had our own rules for gadget usage, but it was verbally communicated and never written down. I guess to be clear, before you hand over a phone or iPad to your child, sit down and discuss the rules and the reasons behind it with him. And don’t forget to be consistent in enforcing the rules. Here’s a sample of our house rules, and you can adapt it to fit your own family circumstances.
1. No watching TV, playing computer or iPad on weekdays.
Last time, I did allow them to watch TV for 1 hour, but when it was time to turn it off they were unhappy. I found it easier to have a complete ban on school days.
2. On weekends, homework must be completed first.
Once they are done with homework, they can use it for 1 hour on Saturdays and 1 hour on Sundays, but it is very hard to enforce especially when I am not at home. Sigh. Haven’t figured a solution for this one.
3. Phones and ipads to be at the charging station by 8.30pm every night.
When I just gave birth to Kate and was too exhausted to check on the older ones, they kept their phones by their bedsides and it constantly beeped with texts or tweets from their friends even at midnight! It is hard for teens to regulate themselves, and they end up not having proper rest for school the next day. For my older girls who are in secondary school, I get them to leave their gadgets to charge near the front door so they can pick it up when they leave for school in the mornings.
4. No gadgets during mealtimes.
What happened with this rule was that the older ones would quickly eat then return to their rooms. When I was describing this scenario halfway to Mr Chong, he already knew what was coming and told me that’s what all teens will do! His suggestion was to set a blanket ban of 1 hour during mealtimes.
Without this rule, the kids will always tell you they are in the middle of a game or some other important job like harvesting fruits etc.
You have to constantly teach and remind the kids about internet safety as that is of utmost importance.
The time should be used for revision or relaxing the mind with outdoor activities.
10. Gadget usage is not a MUST. It is a privilege given by parents and can be taken away.
This one I picked up from Mr Chong, which I think is very important to let the kids know so they don’t think it’s a natural entitlement, especially when almost all their friends seem to have a smartphone.
And of course with rules, there need to be consequences. The most logical consequence of breaking any of the rules is:
Save tip: For their first phones, I used to give them the old type of flip phones. It is hard to get them these days, so the next best thing is to pass down your old phones to them. I see a lot of kids these days with the latest smartphones. I don’t think it is necessary at all and should be saved as an extremely valuable reward to give your child as motivation if they do well for their ‘O’ levels. If you give your kids things too easily, not only will they get a sense of entitlement, but you will have nothing left to motivate them for their major exams.
Discipline #6: Ban books? What are you gonna do about phones?
Discipline #7: 10 House Rules for Gadget Use
Discipline #11: Who has the energy to discipline our kids