Help Your Child Resist Digital Distractions

June 1, 2015

This article originally appeared on Verizon Wireless Mobile Living.

Ping! Beep! Bzz! These are the familiar sounds of digital distractions. They often trigger an irresistible urge to check in, respond, pin or share.

Mobile technology is beneficial in keeping families connected and safe, but using it in our everyday lives requires balance. Resisting the urge to check the frequent notifications on our phones, for instance, can be Herculean even for adults. For many teens, it’s nearly impossible. Brain science is helping us understand why.

Self-regulation is our capacity to control and plan thoughts, emotions and behaviors. When it comes to our kids using mobile technology, self-regulation enables them to do things like ignore text messages in order to carry on conversations. Both genetics and experience shape a child’s capacity to self-regulate, but parents also play an important role. That said, practice doesn’t always make perfect.

“We’ve talked and talked about our expectations around cell phone use after curfew. But it seems like it isn’t getting through! My teenage daughter still texts all night.”

Researchers are hard at work trying to help us understand why resisting digital distractions is so difficult. Three compelling reasons bubble to the top:

  1. Our brains are hardwired to seek out new information. We get a mini-shot of dopamine (the “happy” chemical in our brains) as we click on hyperlinks, open an email or direct a Google search.
  2. The University of Virginia’s Daniel Willingham suggests that texts, tweets and other pieces of social information are “highly perishable.” A teen who checks texts two hours after an event, for example, may see a reduction in the social value of the information.
  3. Self-regulation is taxing and tiring. It takes a lot of mental energy to inhibit the urge to check Facebook to see what friends are up to. When you find that your teen responded to a string of texts while writing a paper, it may be more out of mental exhaustion than outright defiance.

We need to get realistic about what our kids (and ourselves, for that matter) are capable of. Here are ways to reduce digital distractions, boosting productivity and managing your family’s tech time:

  • Discourage multitasking when your child needs to focus.
  • Create a tech curfew and stick to it.
  • Turn off alluring cues if they aren’t central to the task.
  • Be realistic—fifteen minutes of focused attention is a good goal. Reward with movement, stretching or checking in online.
  • Use cell phone tools like FamilyBase™ to encourage your child to reflect on their cell phone habits.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

Erin Walsh

Erin Walsh, is a University of Minnesota instructor and along with her father Dr. Dave Walsh, founded Mind Positive Parenting to help caring adults better understand how to help kids thrive in the 21st century.