Dr. Corinne Masur
These days, everything is on demand. If you want to watch a movie or a TV show, it’s right there, right now. If you want coffee, you can get it any time in any flavor– or an easy dinner, call Caviar – or if you want a ride, well, you know what to do.
It used to be that if you wanted coffee, you’d have had to remember to buy a can of ground coffee at the store and you’d have to make it in your percolator and wait for it to finish before you got a cup. Or if you wanted to watch a show, you had to be in front of the TV at the time it came on.
And while we are used to all this convenience, and we love it, it also takes a toll.
We have SO much choice now – instead of doing the work we said we were going to do at home, we can watch a movie, a cooking show, a comedy series. You might have thought I was going to say that all this on demand was making us lazy but what I am going to say is this: it requires MORE self-discipline than ever. It actually requires us to be able to say NO to ourselves more often than we used to. The discipline was more built-in when we had finish dinner by 7 if we wanted to watch our show, or when we had to make coffee at home if we wanted some. Now we have to discipline ourselves. And it isn’t easy.
This goes for our children as well.
As a child psychologist, I’ve had innumerable kids in my office talking about how they just can’t get off YouTube to do their homework. They want to – they know they should – but they just can’t stop. There is one funny video after another after another, and turning off the computer is their job and it’s hard. Homework isn’t as appealing as one more video…
When kids only had TV to watch, they often did their homework in their rooms or at the kitchen table – where there was no TV. The temptation to watch something was not there every minute. Or, if it was, it was harder to sneak over to the TV and turn it on before the homework was done without someone noticing. Now, they have to do at least some of their work ON their computers – and YouTube is just one click away. And they have ear buds, so no one really knows WHAT they’re doing when it looks like they’re doing homework. The discipline, the self control, has to be within them. And it’s SO hard to develop that.
I don’t think we as a society, or we, as parents, have caught up yet with the difficulties of the on demand life. How NOT to watch? How NOT to eat or drink too much. It’s always there.
How do we help our children develop the self-discipline to not watch or not eat or not stop doing homework too soon before it’s done or to go to sleep when the phone is right there and the friends are still on the group chat. It’s hard.
We need to help our children first by encouraging the focused attention we want them to develop. We have to provide some structure and some monitoring in the years before they have internalized the structure and the self-monitoring. But that is how it works: children take in the rules and the structures provided for them when they’re young. As they mature, they become increasing able to self-structure and self-monitor. We need to help them to do this by insisting that they stick to some rules in the beginning and then by encouraging them to do more and more on their own using their own self-discipline!
Here are a few brief ideas to begin the process:
- Impose some structure on your children’s phone and computer use during homework time.
- Don’t leave the choice up to them. For example, up to age 15 or so, you can insist that they put the phone in a centrally located basket during homework time and after a certain time at night.
- Have your children – through high school age – do their homework in a centrally located spot where you can casually walk by and SEE what’s on their screen from time to time. This may seem intrusive but again, kids need help NOT distracting themselves during homework time.
- If your child just cannot get off YouTube to finish their homework, offer to sit with them while they work or do your own work in the room where they’re doing their homework. You can be a reminder that it is not Youtube time. And try to stay off your own phone during this time. Read a book or a magazine or make dinner while they work.
- Some parents even set up a “study hall” time at home for an hour before dinner and an hour or two after dinner. Everyone does homework then and parental controls are set on any computers used for gaming for those times.
Let us know what has worked at your house!