Gadgets! Your homes are being invaded by them. Using devices as tools and not being dependent on them is a tricky balance. How do we teach our kids to attain this balance? How do we help our children learn to build community without gadgets?
The problem of gadgets is especially visible when attending social gatherings or outings. We often see children glued to their screens instead of interacting with peers or others. It is daunting to witness — even on play dates! So what can you do to curb this?
It’s up to us to teach our children how to build both relationships and community. Relationships require personal connections with friends, family, and others. I do understand there is a time and place for a device in a child’s overall development. But, let’s work together to help our children recognize those times and places, so they can build stronger bonds. Here are some tips and tricks for accomplishing that.
#1 – Be Firm
Yes, it is hard when kids yell, in unison, “We’re bored!” But stand firm. Have a rule in your home disallowing gadgets during playdates. This should certainly be the case when neighbors are visiting. Tell them, “There’s no point in all of you being together if you’re just going to sit and watch TV.” It may sound harsh, but it works! Kids need to be encouraged to work together.
#2 – Have a Jar of Ideas
You obviously don’t want to be the person who has to chaperone your kids every minute. So, create a resource for them. Giving them lots of ideas to choose from will help in both community-building and adventure-seeking. Here are some ideas you might include in your jar.
- Create art
- Perform a play
- Play a board game
- Play charades
- Have a dance party
- Read books together
- Play ice-breaking games
# 3 – Maintain Consistency
When friends visit and give their kids a device, tell everyone, “I’m sorry, but we have a no gadget rule in our home. Now you can play together and interact!”
Yes, some kids are bullies. Yes, sometimes kids do not agree on what to play. Yes, your child is uncomfortable at times. Yes, kids will often say mean things to each other. But that’s a part of how life is. Kids shouldn’t hide behind a gadget every time things get tough. Let your child explore these aspects of human connection. They will grow stronger in the process.
This approach also benefits our parenting friends who have forgotten how important social interactions are for children. It’s essential for their growth, even when interactions are difficult. After all, research has outlined numerous ways in which play can promote cognitive and socio-emotional development. Play can:
- Help kids explore various social situations
- Build creativity
- Foster imagination
- Enhance team-building skills
- Promote language skills
- Teach kids to let go of mean comments
It’s just sad to see kids sitting together while playing on devices instead of interacting with one another. (However, I do allow my kids to use their gadgets at late-night parties when they are tired, and we aren’t quite ready to leave yet.)
#4 – Stand Strong at Social Gatherings
Standing firm can be hardest when your child sees other kids playing on devices at a party. Tell your kids that if they want to play on their phones, then you can just go home. The alternative is finding a way to keep themselves busy. One option (for kids age 7 and older) is sitting with adults and listening to their conversations. Other good boredom-busters might include bringing a sketch pad for drawing or a book for reading.
#5 – Carry a Busy Bag
For desperate times, have your child carry a bag of 2-3 things to help them stay busy. These might include toys, craft supplies, or books of their own. I always make my kids keep their “busy bags” in the car. That way, my kids can try dealing with the situation first. If there’s no one else available for play, then their busy bags are within reach the moment they feel uncomfortable. Having to go to the car and retrieve the busy bag provides motivation for resolving the issue first.
In my book, I talk in-depth about balancing technology and gadget use for kids and teaching kids self-moderation. Let’s raise a generation of kids who have learned not to use their gadgets as a substitute for human interaction!
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