How to Help Your Kids Dodge Digital Distractions

By Jonathan McKee
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
For illustrative purposes only - Juan Silva/age fotostock
Find four ways to connect with your tweens in the midst of 24/7 video game/social media accessibility.

“Why does my son waste his life playing Fortnite? If I don’t monitor him, he’ll play for 12 hours straight!”

“How can I get my daughter to realize there’s more to life than her Instagram feed?”

These are two of the most common complaints I hear from moms and dads. Life has always been full of distractions, but today’s distractions have two major differences: more accessibility and less accountability.

Want to play a video game? You don’t even need a game system or a smartphone. That old iPod Touch you forgot about can download most apps just the same. But in a world where the average age a kid gets their first smartphone is 10.3 years, most young people just use their phone. Fortnite is a free download. And other hit games like Apex Legends will soon be as well.

Want to chat with someone on social media? It’s not like a decade ago when you had to be on a computer connected to the internet. Now young people’s favorite social media apps (Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok) go everywhere with them. Name any social media app — it’s in their pocket and available 24/7. Unlimited accessibility. And because these devices follow our kids into the privacy of school, their bedroom, the bathroom and everywhere else, most young people have zero accountability.

It has become increasingly difficult to pry our kids’ eyes from their screens. Their favorite pastimes are only a click away, and for most young people, these fun digital activities are disconnecting them more and more from us — and from others. How can we connect with our kids while teaching them discernment and maybe even a little self-control?

Delay screen ownership

Yes, this is increasingly difficult when our tweens come home and assure us that all their friends have a smartphone. And they’re right: According to a Nielsen study, 45 percent of 10- to 12-year-olds have their own smartphone. Most experts advise waiting until your children are in high school to give them a phone.

Does that mean iPads are safe? The answer isn’t no. An iPad is just an iPhone without cell service. All those same video games and social media distractions are available on any device that can download apps. If it can download apps, then wait.

Limit screen time

If your kids already have screens, then limit the time they spend on them. Most experts advocate for keeping internet-connected devices out of bedrooms. Your 12-year-old doesn’t need access to games, social media — or porn — at 11:30 p.m. If your son has his game system in his bedroom, move it to another room. If your daughter charges her phone in her bedroom at night, kindly let her know that now Mom and Dad will provide a free phone-charging service every night and provide her with a fully charged device in the morning.

Limiting screen time is much easier today than it was even a year ago because now Apple and Android both released new ways to help parents schedule these limits. Apple even calls this feature “Screen Time,” accessed through the settings on the phone. With Apple’s Screen Time feature you can schedule what they call “downtime” when apps won’t be accessible.

If your tweens resist their screen limits, you have the opportunity to give them a peek into the future when they will have more freedom to make these choices on their own. Let them know specifically that your desire is to teach them to “self limit,” and that they will earn greater freedoms as they get older. This is best done when modeled. Show your kids what self limits look like in your life. It’s difficult to connect with your kids — or have them connect with you — when you don’t limit your own screen time.

Seek face-to-face interactions

Believe it or not, most of today’s young people are frustrated with how much screens distract, especially in social groups, when everyone is looking down at their phones instead of interacting face to face. So give your kids opportunities to experience these moments. Sometimes the best way to help kids avoid the distraction of screens is to become proactive about offering other activities.

Take specific note of when your kids are laughing and smiling without their screens. Do they enjoy it when the family goes out for pizza? Start making fun meals like this a weekly occurrence. Enforce simple boundaries like “no tech at the table.” Do your kids open up to you on car rides or maybe even when you are putting them to bed and their phone is already put away on the charger? Maximize these times. Seek out these settings where they naturally open up.

Join them

Video games and social media are not evil. It’s only the obsession or abuse of these digital pastimes that becomes dangerous. Chances are you might even enjoy one or the other.

So join your kids occasionally as they enjoy these activities. Instead of always checking the timer when your son is glued to his video game, ask him, “May I play?” Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my son was during two-player mode on Xbox. Most of our kids will respond well to our desire to enter their world simply to enjoy their company.

In the same way, if your daughter is scrolling endlessly through a social-media feed and giggling, simply ask her, “Show me.” Not because you are a parole officer looking for malfeasance, but because you want to know what makes her laugh and maybe even laugh with her.

And after a given time joining them, get up and suggest something else fun you can do together. Chances are if you played an hour of video games with your son, he might be more likely to run to the hardware store with you and help you repair the backyard gate, or to the grocery store and help you fix dinner. By joining them and then moving on to other daily activities, you demonstrate what self limits look like. It’s OK to play, but someone needs to make dinner as well.

Today’s distractions are far more portable than the distractions we grew up with — more accessible and with less accountability.

Jonathan McKee is the author of numerous books, including The Teen’s Guide to Social Media and Mobile Devices.

Copyright ©2019 by Jonathan McKee. Used by permission.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

About the Author

Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee has authored 20 books including If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect With Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid, More Than Just Talk and Sex Matters. He has more than 20 years of experience in youth ministry and offers the wisdom he’s gained through that experience as he speaks around the world to parents and youth …

You May Also Like

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.