Screen Savvy: The Value of Delayed Gratification

Older girl using iPad while little boy watches.

Cropped image. Petras Gagilas, Flickr. CC License.

How much screen time do your kids get?

If I’m being honest, mine (ages 13 and 10) get more than ideal on some many days. However, when they see me texting (not while driving!) or their dad playing a game or reading news on the iPad, it’s hard to say much about getting off the screens without looking more than a little hypocritical.

Some parents take an austerity approach. A recent New York Times article notes that Steve Jobs was “a low-tech parent”; his kids didn’t use their dad’s famous iPad and had significant screen time limitations. Parents who strictly limit technology cite concerns about exposure to inappropriate content (despite parental controls), cyberbullying, and the fear of their kids becoming addicted to the constant rush of information and potential for interaction or entertainment our electronic devices offer.

Most of us can relate to this concern. Bored? Grab the phone and play a game or check social media. Text coming in? “Better check who it is! Oh, that’s the chime of my email, I’d better open that too…” Depending on your phone settings, it can ding, chime, and beep notifications at you all day, letting you know there’s one more thing to grab your attention.

But even the screen-shunning set knows the value of letting your kids learn to self-monitor and use technology appropriately as they grow. Like any other tool, there are wonderful and horrible things we can do with technology. One reason gadgets are so appealing is immediate gratification. Most of the time, the information we’re seeking online is available within milliseconds, and if it isn’t, we start grumbling and shaking our phones (to get them to work faster?). Part of the issue may be that we — and our kids — need to remember how to wait. Building persistence and patience are important life skills.

Taking a break from the constant stream of cyberinfo can seem boring or sluggish at first. But you quickly realize there’s a lot to see and do, conversations to have, games to play, etc. If you’re trying to limit technology, you don’t have to be all-or-nothing, simply use baby steps and gradual changes.

Here are some ideas: Next time a text or email comes in, can you wait and mindfully respond in just a little bit? After dinner, can everyone clean up together and then take a brief walk rather than immediately separating and jumping on screens?

Pick limits that work for you and your family, and get used to the fun you can have off-line!

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital

1 Response to “Screen Savvy: The Value of Delayed Gratification”


  1. 1 Anonymous November 19, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Like the stop and think concept – can this wait? Nice opportunity for a teachable moment as well. Good stuff! Thank you!


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