, Salem, MA

January 31, 2014

School vacations can be more work with technology to manage

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — Many kids ramped up their tech use during the two-week school vacation last month. In only three weeks, they will be out of school again for a week. If kids already have difficulty limiting technology, how can parents manage this during the upcoming break when kids will have more idle time?

On average, children use technology seven hours a day, but what about when they are snowed in, or it’s too cold to do anything, or the novelty of new toys makes them even more addictive? If you are a parent who is wondering about your choices for allowing tech in your house, you’re not alone. What’s the alternative, you may ask? It’s not realistic to limit all tech — even kids over 6 are exposed in school through computer learning games, technology class and reading e-books on classroom Nooks. And now that it’s winter, parents have the additional challenge of keeping kids busy during the snowy, cold winter, when kids are really apt to use technology, not seven hours a day, but 24/7. On snow days especially, children may argue that gaming, Skyping or using FaceTime, or using the video app Snapchat are the only way they can communicate with their friends. Parents need to be prepared.

What is realistic in terms of curbing technology in kids?

Be prepared:

Ask yourself how good you are at setting limits. I’m very good at limit-setting, but even I struggle with tech. For me, winter is a time when it’s more difficult to get the kids out. I hear, “What else can we do?” and see the big eyes yearning just to “be on tech with my friends.”

Rehearse your plan and enlist the support of other like-minded adults to help you stick by your plan when you feel worn out or at risk of backing down. Waffling will only reinforce that you are a pushover when it comes to setting tech limits.

I always make a plan at the start of the day, and the kids are responsible for sticking to it. They agree upfront, and if they can’t manage it, they lose time. Typically, it’s an hour of tech for an hour of some other activity, and I try to give them a choice — walking to town, playing outside, playing with each other, reading, drawing — you name it, the list is long. Before a long weekend, I will go to an art store and buy supplies that I know will keep them engaged. I also try to sign them up for activities during the long week of school breaks, so the days are not all mine to fill and to manage against technology overuse.

Know the signs and symptoms of tech obsession:

Kids get addicted to technology the more they use it.

Kids’ moods decrease when they overuse technology.

Kids get anxious in the absence of tech if they have an overreliance on it; they “have to be connected” or they are missing something.

Kids get obstinate and defiant when tech is taken from them if they have become addicted to it.

Parents need to be prepared and develop a routine they can enforce. Here’s some advice:

Set a routine around tech that you can implement and expect pushback with attempted manipulation.

No tech first thing in the morning.

Have an alternative activity even if it means you have to participate in it — playing cards, making a meal like breakfast, plan the day to get physical components to it.

Invite other kids over with the understanding they will all play a board game; include parents if they are available.

Be physical before allowing tech: do push-ups and sit-ups or go for a walk as a family first.

Don’t allow tech for more than one hour at a time.

Have random checks on your kids activities.

Always have screen-free zones and times — and stick to those rules yourself.

The younger the kids are, the easier it is to manage them, so limit tech today, don’t wait!

I realize that vacations, like most other parenting tasks today, are more work than they used to be. It might be OK that kids could stick to wanting more tech hours just during vacation, but I’m seeing and hearing that is not the case. Kids who have had more tech use expect more and get upset and manipulative when parents set limits. Be prepared and expect that the initial days will be challenging. Get support from other like-minded adults and remember there is no point in arguing with a tech-obsessed tween. What you say goes, and they will accept it if you stand by your position.


Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Learn more at,, or