Polly Ely: Staying Attached with Tech All Around

The evening of Tuesday, January 23, Polly Ely gave an on-campus talk called “The House that Tech Built: Staying Attached with Tech All Around.” These are notes from that presentation, which focused on how to engage your child positively around her/his tech habits. You can read more about Polly Ely here: https://www.thelabmethod.com/about/

  • Self-determination theory (competence, autonomy, relatedness) as it relates to tech:
    • Competence: I can figure out both how to use and when to use tech. I can master this.
    • I can follow my inner directives and chart my course on my own in my tech use.
    • I am not an island. I don’t have to figure this out by myself. We are in this together. I am loveable, even when I am out of balance with tech.
  • ⅓ attunement; ⅓ rupture; ⅓ repair
  • What can I ADD-IN to make my relationship with my child more secure, rather than focusing on what I should clamp down on and take away…?
  • Tech can allow your kids to “flip the hierarchy” and gain power over parents. Parents need to be AWARE of when this starts to happen, and maintain calm, cool, control.
  • Strongest reinforcer of bad behavior: when you SOMETIMES give in and allow your kid to break the rules. If this happens even just one in five times, of COURSE kids are going to try for it, every time. This is the “slot machine effect” of parenting.
  • Kids WANT a sturdy adult who can take control over a situation and won’t give in to a tantrum. It helps them feel safe.
  • Teach yourself how to take a deep breath, lean back, and SMILE when you see a tantrum brewing. Keep control.
  • “Sometimes we have to be different from other parents.” Give yourself permission to have the courage to be different.
  • Balancing the desire for screen-time with other parts of life isn’t going to be something we JUST learn by virtue of signing an agreement. But you should still have an agreement.
  • Some kids will lie, cheat, and steal, to get their hands on technology. This doesn’t make them “bad.” It’s not a character flaw. This is them trying to figure out how to live with a device that can be hard to manage in moderation.
  • Technology gives us a chance to practice learning about integrity.
  • The relationship with you (the parent) IS the reward your kids seek more than anything in the world. While they may be asking for screens, a relaxed 15 min with you is their deepest longing.
  • Hold the lines and set limits, but do so with your eyes on our relationship, rather than controlling their use of technology. SAY things like “I am really craving some time with you. What do you think about….with me?”
  • Basic benchmarks/skills that kids need to clear EVERY DAY to get access to any screens (do these things DAILY…eg, movement, pro-social engagement, some path toward inner life, etc.)
  • 3 main controls: wifi routers (turn off as a family sometimes!); turn off cellular for certain hours; block porn.
  • Give kids access and tech privileges SLOWLY. Kids actually like to earn things; it feels good to them. Break each new bit of tech access into bits that are EARNED.
  • “Full disclosure about surveillance” – a trusted relationship paired with human monitoring is the best protection. “Out of care for your learning, about how to use tech responsibly, I want to remind you that i am tracking and watching your online use. I will stand guard over you because to me there is NO PERSON I know more worthy of being guarded and protected than you.”
  • “I love you too much to let you miss this.” [Recommended for tech-free vacations!]
  • With a fever over 100 degrees, limited passive screen time is allowed. But without a fever, they will find another way to pass the time while being sick. This tends to “expedite” the recovery process!
  • The Faucet o’ Fun: TV, video games, phone, ipads, special snacks, excursions…I am ok with turning it off if I need to when you forget to keep our agreement. “For the next few years, it will probably go on and off a bunch of times and that’s ok. Let’s talk about what you can do to keep it on.” (And as a parent, get COMFORTABLE with the idea of giving it back; taking it away; giving it back; taking it away…
  • Always try to parent from a place of “Cheerful indifference.” This is a Buddhist concept. Do not ride the roller coaster with your child–if you do, you’ve probably lost control of the situation.
  • “The Power of 15:” Fifteen minutes of child-led attunement with your child, is more powerful than their screen time. It will “settle their whole system down.”
  • Parents have to unplug as well! And check in before you check out: “I am going to do some work for about 30 min. My body will be here, but my mind will be somewhere else. So when you talk to me, I may not answer.” OR “Babe, I need to step away for about 30 min to return a few emails. I wanted to let you know rather than just ghosting on everyone. Is now an ok time for this?”
  • Kids can sometimes be “the ungrounded wire.” You, the parent, have to be the grounding wire.
  • Leave 6 hours / week of unscheduled time (eg the second half of Sunday), for your FAMILY.
  • Do a rehearsal of turning it on and turning it off, and NAME that as practice for being prompt when it’s ACTUALLY time to turn it off.
  • “PEOPLE FIRST, THEN PROBLEMS.” Connect with your child as a PERSON before you say something like “How long have you been on that thing?!”
  • When it’s genuinely their turn to kick back and enjoy consuming: “Hey, it’s time to get into video game position! You have earned it. Set your timer and enjoy every minute, sweetheart!” Let them KNOW you want them to have fun, when they’ve earned it.
  • TEACH kids about the idea of having “an inside life” and “an outside life.” Teach them HOW to maintain personal care over their inside life. TALK about it. If nobody talks about it, they start to think that inside life isn’t real.
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and anxiety is occurring in our young people as a result of too much time spent responding to what’s going on OUTSIDE, and never attending to something that needs attention INSIDE.
  • By age 9 or 10, start having short 5- to 10-minute conversations about online porn. Say something like “There are some things on the internet, sweetheart, that feel scary and confusing for kids to see. There are sites with people who are like actors, and they act out (something called) sex with each other. When people do sex in a video, it’s called porn. Sometimes kids feel really sad or upset when they see porn accidentally on the internet. Sometimes kids put curse words in google wondering what will come out, and sometimes it’s things like this. It’s not love, it’s not real, and if you see anything like this, I want you to turn it off. You are worthy of this kind of protection, which is why I’m taking the care to tell you this. But I also want you to know that you’re not in trouble if you ever see it. If that happens, I want you to be able to talk with me about it so I can help you.”
  • When kids break agreements, institute a 1-2 day “tech break.” Think of this break from technology as a GIFT. (They will not feel this to be a gift, and that’s ok. They have permission to be mad.) Break is usually 24-48 hours, starting when kids engage in the cleanup process (repairing whatever damage they did by breaking a rule–eg re-do’s, paying for lost/broken charges, repair relationships…). Break does not actually end until cleanup is done. The interim is an excellent time to review our agreements, figure out what went wrong, do the cleanup, and re-agree. (A break for a MAJOR problem could be 14-30 days…you still engage in repair, have a re-do, and eventually end on a good note.) This may also be a cue for the PARENT to slow down and connect more with the kid.
  • Rather than “I can’t believe you’re still doing this after I’ve told you…”, try something like “We will work on this until we get it.” This is a powerful message to kids.

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