This Is Why “No iPad For A Week” Might Backfire

Galit Breen Elementary School

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Dear Galit,

So I have a question for you that I’m wondering if anyone else has—how much should I really be giving and taking screen time as a privilege and/or a consequence for behavior? I’m super curious about this one, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one!



Dear Curious, Smart, and Definitely Not Alone,

So first of all let’s address the elephant (question) in the room: are you the only one?

Of course not! Just like I found in my classroom teaching days, if one person asks it, many others are thinking it!

I think almost every parent can relate to taking away the phone or the iPad as a consequence for misbehavior and to using device time as a reward for good behavior.

The bad news is that I don’t think this is working the way that you want it to.

The good news is that this is super fixable.

So how did we get here?

One reason that this practice is so common is that there are SO MANY well-meaning posters on Pinterest with messages.

Like this:

  • Read
  • Write
  • Play
  • Do your chores

…And then you can play on the iPad!

Or this:

  • Do your chores!
  • Finish your homework!
  • Go outside!

… And then you can have the Internet password!

Or even this:

  • No games.
  • No iPad.
  • No cell phone.

Well actually …

Mama’s super tired! Here you go!

This is why these don’t work like we want them to

Even though implementing the rules and values that these posters imply (“real life” before “tech time”; or pretty much anything before tech time) are 100% well meaning, what messages are we really sending our kids by setting things up this way?

Well, I'll tell you.

They end up hearing that:

  • Tech time is bad
  • Or at the very least “not as good” as these other activities
  • That it’s something negative
  • Or something to binge on
  • Or on the flipside, that it’s a reward
  • Or the be all, end all coveted activity

And yet …

They see us, their friends, and other trusted adults consume media and they enjoy consuming media as well.

And they should! There are amazing opportunities available to them (and us!) online.

But the mix of these truths sends confusing messages.

The truth is that technology is none of the things in that list.

It’s just a part of our lives now and the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this wild space where anything can happen; there’s a right way to use it.

So we talked about not using technology as a reward and what we talked about above is  the why behind this truth.

But what about using technology as a consequence?

For this “flipside” we turn to natural consequences.

As in, if the mistake was made on technology—such as they deleted their search history or it was time to move on to a non-tech activity, but they kept right on playing that fun game, then the consequence should be technology related.

For example …

At my house, if my kids break a rule on their phone, they lose their phone until they come discuss with us what happened, if there is going to be a further consequence, and what the fix for the mistake is going to be.

Truth time: I have this system in place because I don’t want to engage with a kid who is not ready to talk!

This is the important part:

And also because it’s not helpful to give them their phone back without teaching them what went wrong and how to do things better.

Without this step, the mistake is very likely to be repeated, and remember our goal is to parent ourselves out of this job!

But when it comes to other kinds of mistakes …

You hit your brother, or you didn’t study for a test, or you told me that you took out the garbage, but survey says, not so much, for examples …

My opinion is that the consequence should NOT be losing the iPad or the phone.

Here’s why

When there’s a disconnect between the misbehavior and the consequence, it not only becomes tricky to teach your kids the better habits that you want them to have, but this also puts screen time in that weird space where it’s too shiny, too coveted, and too important.

And this is not the message that we want to be sending!

So the bottom line is this:

If the mistake is made on technology, it’s a-okay to take technology away as the consequence.

But if the mistake is not made on technology, then it’s way more effective to have a consequence (and a fix) that are specifically related to the mistake.

If your kids are starting to show an interest in the online world …

I have a detailed checklist for you to use. It’s super helpful and you can get it RIGHT HERE.

Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online; the TEDx Talk, “Raising a digital kid without having been one”; the online course Raise Your Digital Kid™; and the Facebook group The Savvy Parents Club. You can get her parents’ checklist for moms of new(ish) digital kids RIGHT HERE.

P.S. This has been a 6 week series about raising digital kids. I can hardly believe we’re at week 6 already, but look at how much we’ve learned together!

Week 1 we discussed screen time limits and whether they’re helpful or harmful.

Week 2 how to keep our kids safe, but still allow them to enjoy all of the benefits that the online world has to offer.

Week 3 we discussed how to handle app asks, especially if our kids ask about an app that we’ve already heard bad things about.

Week 4 we discussed tricky online areas to watch for.

Week 5 we discussed how do we stay on top of all the different ways our kids can interact online.

Mamalode and I are super curious what questions you still have about kids and the online world. Leave us a comment below, and you never know—we just may answer your question in the future!

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Galit Breen

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