Some time ago I worked with a mom who, as a consequence for some unpleasant behaviors, took away her 13-year old son's cell phone for three days. There was a scene with him (let's call him Scott) with the usual retorts -- It's not fair, you can't do that, it's MY phone, and so on. Forty-eight hours later he told her he was glad she took it away from him. Hold the phone! I mean, wait a minute. What's wrong with this picture? It turns out that there is everything right with the picture.
Scott was grateful to be 'unplugged'. He felt relieved to not be constantly, instantly connected to his friends. He had two days of not being sucked into the drama of their lives, or having to take sides. He even slept better. (You have no idea how many teens come to school sleep-deprived and lethargic because they are responding to texts at all hours of the night.) Of course, at the end of the three days, Scott was given back his phone... and was happy to have it. And he appreciated the experience.
Cell phones, video games, iPods and the Internet are here to stay; however, the need for some down time, some quiet, unplugged time, is crucial for mental, physical and emotional well-being. I could have spent time looking for specific ideas about how to limit your kids' time in the online world. But I want to bring you back instead to a foundation of effective parenting -- You are your child's most important teacher, and it's up to you to model what you want them to do.
So I ask you, where are you when it comes to being plugged in? Does it keep you from spending time with your family? Are you just passing the time online? Do you text and drive? Do you have trouble unwinding and falling asleep because you're glued to a screen? What are you teaching them?
Your kids may think they can't live without their phone, but sometimes what they really want and need is more of you. It's time to have some 'low-tech' or 'no-tech" time for everyone. Take out the board games and the basketball. Cook together, hike together. Do puzzles or go through old photographs. Play mini-golf or have a joke night. The possibilities are endless.
This challenge won't go away any time soon, if ever. Your job is to strike a balance. Help your kids find signs of life beyond technology, and to enjoy the pleasures of being face to face with the people in their lives. And while you're at it, do the same for you.