What a cruel end to a lazy, warm summer! Kids’ feet cramped by shoes; t-shirts and togs replaced with stiff uniforms, and parents girding themselves to become disciplinarians again. Where we had been camping and playing in the surf with our kids, the beginning of the school year heralds the parent as morning alarm clock, school bag and homework reminder, bedtime enforcer and controller of devices.

In the course of my counselling work, and in incidental social conversations, parents frequently complain to me that their children don’t go to bed on time because they are on their devices. They take a fatalistic stance, as if the device has supreme power against which they could never compete. By the time our children are using devices, they have honed their skills in rationalising (arguing) and can convince their parents of the merits or urgencies of device time. The UK charity Action for Children finds that one in four parents struggles to control their children’s screen use. Add to that the ensuing fights between parents that result from overuse of devices.

I believe that children are always unconsciously seeking proof that they can respect their parents by challenging boundaries and rules. Though it’s obscure, the child’s argument against shutting off the device is precisely a request that the parent hold firm to her or his beliefs about what is best for the child. Children experience stress when parents don’t have strong views about and consequences for what’s right and what’s wrong. Research shows that “jellyfish” parenting is as predictive of poor work, health and relationship outcomes in later life for children as tyrannical parenting.

Here’s how you take back power over devices (and earn your children’s respect):

1. Believe that you have ultimate authority in your home (you do, you’re the adult and parent!)
2. Exercise your good sense that your child most often can’t stop her or himself from using a device, so you have to intervene. It’s good for them. Just like it’s good to know when to stop eating ice cream.
3. Keep devices in the lounge or kitchen, not in the children’s rooms, so their use is always monitored (and controlled).
4. Pay attention to your children, interact with them, play with them, love them, read with or alongside them, and they will want to be with you more than their devices.

Use the beginning of the school year to enforce good study, eating, fun, and sleeping habits. Decide on how much device time you will allow and have a consequence for when that time is violated. Your children will love and respect you for it. If you need support in doing so, contact a friend or email me and we can start you off on the right foot.

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Marta Fisch is a family and individual therapist, supervisor, and trainer. She loves playing with her son, dancing, and riding her bike to work. She's involved in community sustainability initiatives, which brings her hope and a sense of belonging. Marta grew up in California and has lived in New Zealand / Aotearoa for 20 years. You can find out more on her website

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