Game Over: Stop Battling With Your Kids Over Electronics


JSSA Child and Family Services

For some children and teens with special needs, there is often only one thing that motivates them…videogames. In fact, I’ve heard from many parents who feel that electronics, in particular videogames, have become such a big part of their child’s life that it seems to be almost all consuming. The games, or not being allowed to play them, can often impact their child’s mood. Day after day, parents fight with children over how much time they should be spending on videogames– but it’s a fight with no clear winner. Technology can be a benefit – but it’s a benefit that needs clear boundaries.

Technology’s Advantages

Technology isn’t going anywhere – in reality it’s everywhere.  And there are some distinct advantages that come with the modern “electronic era” of today:

  1. Technology can be an educational tool.
    Schools are implementing new and innovative ways of learning by using technology.  For those with learning and other disabilities, technology can often help students tremendously. Students and parents report that they seem to be able to focus more on the content of the work rather than the anxiety around their learning or developmental disability since there are many apps that assist with skills that are particularly challenging (i.e., reading and writing). Specifically, children with learning disorders, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia, are using electronics to enhance their writing performance by typing rather than writing. Students with autism are using technology throughout the school day to improve communication skills with teachers and peers. Also, those students with executive functioning disorder have found that technology has improved their ability to manage homework as many assignments are now available online and can be turned in via email.
  2. Technology can be a way for your child to interact with their peers.
    No, playing on the computer isn’t the same as meeting a friend at the movies. Yet, children and teens with special needs are connecting with others and finding friends who share common interests “online.” Often, this form of communication is the only peer connection they have. Many times, children with autism have an incredibly difficult time connecting with and engaging in conversation with other peers. While children with autism should be encouraged to speak about a variety of topics, often times, the common interest of video games can give children confidence in starting conversations with peers and joining in groups of peers at school as the topic of conversation is familiar and comfortable to them.
  3. Technology can help your child focus.
    Many children with disabilities, especially Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), have difficulties remaining focused for an extended period of time. Children with ADHD often have trouble sitting still while completing their homework.  Technology, which can be portable, can provide students with ADHD an opportunity to move around while learning. There are also many apps that serve as timers and can be used to structure homework time with shorter intervals and scheduled breaks. Children with ADHD also like to keep their hands busy and electronic devices can be one way to do this. Parents can also integrate other ways to keep their child’s hands engaged by playing with gears or Legos, drawing, or using stretchy/squishy objects called “Fidgets.”

“Playing Nice” By Setting Boundaries

If electronics and videogames are preventing your child from learning and developing other critical skills, then boundaries must be set. There has to be consistent consequences; children must know what is expected of them and what will happen if expectations are not met.

Here are some recommendations on setting boundaries regarding electronic use:

  1. Eliminate electronics in the bedroom.
    Keep all televisions, computers and gaming systems in a common area. Time in the bedroom should be spent on studying, reading, non-video game play or sleeping. Parents can also better monitor how much time is being spent on electronics as well as the type of programs if they are in a common space.
  2. Do not allow electronics an hour before bed.
    Since long before electronics, there is much scientific data supporting how light promotes wakefulness — the signaling of light and dark helps our bodies be alert in the morning and tired at night. The National Sleep Foundation found that the light exposure from electronics negatively impacts sleep, including later bedtimes, daytime sleepiness, and less quality sleep.  Negative sleep can impact growth, learning, mood, and weight control. Transitioning from electronics to less stimulating and less light-intensive activities at night can prove extremely useful.
  3.  Schedule a family therapy session to discuss expectation around technology use at home and school.
    The topic of taking away or minimizing video game play can often result in arguments amongst family members.  Children may act out and parents might need additional support and guidance on how to create, implement, and stick to these new expectations. A family therapy session can help a family work through difficult changes and support the child and parents in creating new behaviors that will promote a healthier family dynamic.
  4. Keep to the boundaries you have set.
    It typically takes about three weeks to a month for most children to adjust to any change in routine. Be prepared for your child to resist new changes, to throw tantrums out of frustration, or to express anger/defiance in different ways.  As hard as this time might be, it is important to keep the boundaries you have set. Children will eventually learn the new rules and expectations for the home and will adapt.
  5. Set up computer lock programs.
    To enforce amount of time spent on electronics, there are many computer lock programs that will shut down the program or system when the time allotted has ended. This is a good way to avoid disagreements with children on the amount of time allowed on the system.
  6. Help your child engage in other peer-related activities.
    If your child enjoys electronics, spend some time researching available computer classes or computer/technology camps. Although this does not eliminate electronic use, classes and camps have group projects that require your child to work with others, which can help your child learn social skills and make friendships. These classes and camps can also provide useful computer skills your child can learn that can be applied when seeking employment or at school.  If you are looking for other non-electronic peer-related activities, try suggesting activities such as martial arts, sports, music, art, Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, etc.

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