Limiting Your Pre-Teens IPOD Use at the Dinner Table

By Dr. Jonah Schrag

Below is a quick and playful module for how to enforce a rule about not carrying an IPOD to the dinner table, to a house of worship, to a sibling’s graduation etc.

1. Acknowledge the Problem and Empathize with your Child:

e.g “I know. I see your point. I agree. It probably will be boring. I get that you would want to take your IPOD with you the graduation (lets say). Who wouldn’t? I wish I could take mine also. It would give me something to do when I get bored.”

2. Join with the Child’s Struggle While Simultaneously Giving the Child a Simple Reason as to Why they May Not Bring Their IPOD. Engage the Child’s Creative/Flexible Self in Solving the Problem:

e.g. “As much as we both would want to play on our IPODs, it is not good manners to play on technology when we are having a family dinner. Feel free to do that from 8-9pm tonight” (or whatever times are understood as the child’s free time or screen time).

Note: It is important that you think carefully about why this issue (not taking IPOD to dinner table) is important to you. For example, you might go on to explain to the child that “dinner is a time for the family to sit and talk together. It is not a time to play alone on your IPOD.”

Try not to engage your child in a debate. You are the parent. A family is not a democracy. Your child does not have to agree with your thinking. You are simply establishing a rationale for your rule that reflects the family culture you wish to create.

3. If the Child Remains ‘Brain Locked’ and Relentlessly Insists on Taking Their IPOD to the Forbidden Place, Try Using Humor to Break the ‘Spell’.

When children are repetitively spinning around the same theme and seemingly not absorbing new information, it is likely the child is in what is sometimes referred to as a ‘negative trance state’ where they cannot think outside their narrow, myopic box. It is as if the child’s brain has a deep groove where thoughts periodically get stuck the way a scratched CD endlessly repeats a phrase until you nudge it past the microscopic scratch or piece of dust. If you can switch sets by engaging your child in another activity, you will likely break their brain-lock. I personally have had much success engaging children with respectful humor. They often find it irresistibly compelling.

As a cautionary note, when a parent uses humor, it is not uncommon for a child to easily feel mocked or become highly sensitive to feeling they are being taken lightly. Parents should go out of their way to use language that conveys the notion that you understand this to be a serious issue (for the child and therefore for you) and that you are committed to focus effort and energy toward helping them arrive at a palatable solution.

E.g. You might begin by making some absurd, unexpected suggestion. For a 10 year old, you might say: “You know, maybe the whole family could bring whoopee cushions and the whole table could just keep standing up and sitting down on it. That might be entertaining. I bet everyone in the restaurant would want to know where we got those cushions from and want to borrow ours. Or maybe…….”.

Continue making humorous absurd suggestions. If your child engages with a suggestion of their own (even while maintaining a long, sullen face), laugh heartily and add something that riffs on their idea. The point is to gently and respectfully coax your child to engage their brain in the activity of visualizing absurd objects to take to the dinner table. If the child joins you, it will almost certainly break the ‘negative brain locked trance’. As an added bonus, your child will be associating the IPOD with other ideas that all agree would never be brought to the dinner table which with repetition, will pay longer-term dividends. If the child engages, continue for a few minutes riffing on ideas, laughing together and changing the mood.

4. Transition Back to Brain-Storming Solutions:

At this juncture, the child is hopefully in a more flexible space and may be able to engage in brainstorming realistic ideas to occupy his or herself during their sister’s graduation that night. You may need to start off by reminding the child of that which cannot be changed (sometimes referred to as reality).

For example, you might say something that includes the following points: “Your sister is graduating tonight, it is something to celebrate and feel gratitude for, the family supports each other which is why the entire family is going (which will occur again when you graduate), there will be speeches, there is a distinct possibility you will at some point get bored and you need to find a method to occupy yourself that does not involve a technology or overt reading material. That would be rude and you were brought up better then that.”

Your child will likely be so myopically focused on the IPOD solution that they legitimately will not be able to imagine another way to solve their problem. You may need to offer them a template or two that will help them shift sets. In doing so it is critical that you be careful about not hijacking the process. Remember, if at all possible, your task is to get their brain engaged in generating ideas and creatively involved in solving the problem.

E.g. You might for example say, “how about you make up a game of I Spy. Find 10 things in the room that are orange”. You may want to generate an index card of imaginative games and ideas your child can keep with them as a reference guide in case they get bored or need to figuratively leave the room.

When engaging in activities such as the one above, you are teaching your child a variety of life skills such as:

Boundaries:

There is a time and place for everything. What may be appropriate at one or in one place may not be appropriate at another time or in another place.

Self-Soothing:

I can care for myself independently of screens and toys. It is analogous to when a child gives up a pacifier or blanket and now must find the means within themselves to self-sooth.

Confidence in Myself:

I do not need to worry I will be bored. I can rely on my internal abilities to creatively occupy myself.

Empathy and Respect for Others:

I cannot do whatever I want whenever I want. I must anticipate how others will feel and respond accordingly.

Problem Solving:

I can rely on myself and on my imagination to creatively solve problems.

Planning:

I must think ahead and plan for an activity.

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