Oh yee, devices!
Most parents struggle with the amount of time and attention their kids spend on their electronic devices (phones, tablets, etc.). However, with Parental Alienation, everything seems exacerbated, and devices are no different.
We only have six days per month together. So to use the word ‘aggravating’ would be to put mildly how it felt to watch not only that precious allotment of time, but also its quality degrade because of devices. So we have had to take some measures that I hope might prove useful to other targeted parents.
As I believe is true of most kids, for our kids devices quickly became a crutch: they provide effortless entertainment, an instantaneous solution to boredom and an escape from irritating adults. Lots of studies have demonstrated that as a result, children’s attention spans diminish and so does their sense of satisfaction with their life overall, and social life in particular. So our aims were to reverse this ‘crutch’ pattern and to enrich our time together.
First up, I explained the logic for limiting their use of their devices, sifting through many of the articles like this one. As I expected (not that it would have deterred me), they rolled their eyes a bit, but the data that resonated the most was on creativity: boredom is actually a key ingredient of original thought. Thus, I explained, we sabotage ourselves if we carelessly rush to counter our boredom.
So for over a year, we practiced “device intervals”: they got several intervals of 10 minutes on their devices and were expected to stay off them in between. This did wonders towards that reversal: the present time and experience became dominant, because a crutch that your parent says you can use for ten-minutes is hardly worth the title.
In addition to the expected outcomes, we observed three more that are worth mentioning. Firstly, our kids got way less irritable: remember, the immediacy of device-driven gratification makes any human hugely disappointing. So resetting their expectations has led to dramatically improved moods. Secondly, they self-correct better now: they make sure to have substantial chunks of device-free time with us. As a result, we have not had to do the intervals, and an occasional, “Hey guys, be wrapping it up on the devices and take a couple-hour break now,” seems to do the trick. And thirdly, and a tad surprisingly, we feel that the hold that their other, alienating parent, has on them has subsided: having presence with us in their day as the default, has made the alienator’s attempts to infiltrate through incessant texts, calls, etc. way less powerful.
Now, we just have device-free days. For us, it is every Sunday that we have them. For them, that is two half-Sundays per month. We picked Sunday in part because it tends to be a tricky day for us: it is the hand-over day and the children often behave strangely, as if already morphing into their other life. We found that both device-obsession and irritability went through the roof, and our last day with them usually didn’t feel like ours at all.
When introducing the idea, I rattled on about the benefits of waking up and gazing at the ceiling, of wondering what one might do today, of stumbling downstairs and flipping through an issue of National Geographic. A few times (for example, to accommodate sports tournaments), they asked to switch the device-free day to another day. At first, the start of a device-free day was bugged down with complaints of arrangements that couldn’t be made, and friendships that were being let down. However, since we never forbid calling anybody, those complaints ran out of steam, and it was also accepted that any plan worth having can be made the day before. Now, they know to leave their phones charging in the kitchen the night before and the mornings usually start with one of our kids actually browsing through the paper and the other, making breakfast for all. And I must say, in surprise, that device-free days have consistently been the best days we have with our children.
When parental alienation rages through our lives, self-doubt and a desire to keep peace at all costs can drive our parenting styles. Once it has been beaten down and stripped to nothing, courage to stand up for truth becomes a rare commodity. However, the science indicates that our children are better off when devices don’t dominate their lives. So as parents, we can draw a line. And in return, reap benefits invaluable to us as targets of alienation: affirmation of our role in their lives, the capacity of our children for independent creative thought, and the quality of our time together. Explore what works for you, because it is worth it.