Setting electronics ground rules with your toddler

Jun 28, 2016

At 16 months old, my son sent an email. It was just a series of random consonants, but what astonished me was that my little guy, who was still mastering the art of walking, had not only turned my phone on but accessed the email app, selected a recipient, created a new email, typed in it, and hit “send.”

It’s amazing how quickly they learn.

A few years later we got him his own tablet, reasoning that it would not only keep him from trying to grab our phones all the time, but it would also provide him with some educational opportunities. And it did, but we knew we couldn’t let it become a habit.

The hard part was striking the balance between making the tablet a reward (but not too much of a reward), limiting his time, and ensuring that the time he did spend on it was educational. Here’s what we came up with.

Tablet time and family playtime

Our son knows that he gets an hour with his tablet at the end of the day, but only if he gets a good report from his teacher. After that hour, he has to plug it back in and we spend the rest of the time before dinner either playing together or reading. That way, he looks forward to his tablet time, but he also looks forward to playtime, and we always try to have some fun activity ready — even if it’s just playing with homemade playdough or “cooking” with a little bowl of baking soda and a squirt bottle of vinegar.

Vet the games and apps

Before we let our son have a tablet, we made sure all of the games and apps he had access to were age-appropriate (and fit our beliefs as to what we felt was appropriate) and also had a strong educational aspect to them. We made sure to place password restrictions on any additional downloads, too, and only download new games as a reward to keep our family safe online.

No easy access and plenty of alternatives

Lastly, we made sure to keep his tablet where he couldn’t reach it — high up in a cabinet in the kitchen. And we try to keep him from having the downtime to ask to play with it, too, by trying to fill our time with trips to the park or just going on walks and taking bike rides, even if it’s just a little jaunt up the street and back.

In the end, the best reward you can offer your kids is time spent together. It’s what they want and they look forward to every chance they get with you. Incentivize them with things like tablet time and other special treats, but those perks are only second to their favorite reward: time spent together with family.