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Background:

The child here is a 10 year old. We are a stable two parent household. He is academically good, however, wants to spend all time glued to YouTube/ Video games. We placed a limit of an hour a day, provided all his work is done. Enforcing that has been a pain, and he sneaks in screens all the time.

Currently, he at online school, and the first quarter missed turning in quite a few assignments, and got low grades (his teacher told us that he should have gotten an F, because he has not turned in any assignment, but just gave him a C-). He's been spending all the "school" time playing games on the computer. There has been blocking software on the computer, but he managed to bypass it.

Current situation:

Since Halloween he's been sitting quite often in storage space under his bed. I "knew" he had a stash of candy there, but just shrugged it off - only asking him to clean the dust and candy wrappers from the space once. Yesterday, I discovered some devices (an old iPad and old iPhone) in that space.

As a consequence, I asked him to write a two page essay on what the screen rules are, and why he has the rules, and what he'll do in the future.

Turns out he was not eating candy at all, just using it as a decoy to spend time on screens.

Question:

I am quite devastated that he has actively cheated, I am unable to talk to him or even think about him without breaking down. I have been avoiding him since yesterday.

Am I overreacting? I expected such things to happen when he's 15 or 16 but 10 seems too young. Should I just let him spend time on screens, to prevent more lying? What can a reasonable consequence be? Talking and writing has not been helping. Cutting out screen time can only lead to more lying. I do not want to cut out sports or friends.

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  • What is he spending all his time doing on the screens? Talking to his friends? Playing a specific game? This may be more of a game addiction issue than a generic 'screen' issue. Dealing with a video game addiction will be different than dealing with too much screen time in general.
    – stan
    Dec 1 '20 at 20:10
  • Most of the viewing is YouTubers playing Forza Horizon, NFL or games like that. He is not talking to friends or strangers AFAIK. Dec 1 '20 at 21:58
  • Here is a question for your, how do you spend your time or the other parent? are you all the time in front of a computer? (even if you are not playing games, but checking your emails, facebook or some online recipe or or or ...). What activities do you do together? Maybe just try to occupy his time with enough activities that he will not want to get online
    – Edwin
    Dec 2 '20 at 20:27
  • Both of us work full time (engineering, in front of the computer). I am pursuing a career advancement and other parent is pursuing a PhD so, more time in front of the computer. Fairly little social media (news / keeping up with friends), no video games. Occasional movie together. TV/ Netflix when doing dishes. Time spent with kids is board games, reading, general goofing around. We try programming, and arduino - he picks up things quite fast. However, any other activity pales in comparison to the strong pull of YouTube. Dec 2 '20 at 21:34
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The question I would ask is simply, why is he doing this. Ten years old is not young, and certainly old enough to be able to understand why unlimited screen time is a problem; it also is old enough to evaluate risks and rewards, as you have found out first hand.

How have you approached this in the past? Is limited screentime simply a rule that he must follow? Or have you discussed with him the whats and the whys of the limit, and approached it as a learning experience?

Remember that in only eight years, he may well be on his own (at least, far more than he is now), and the focus at this age should primarily be helping him to learn to make these decisions correctly for himself. Of course, a ten year old does not have the impulse control of an adult (nor does an 18 year old have the control of a 30 year old, of course, but far more than that of a ten year old); hence why there do need to be actual limits. But, there should be a understanding between you and he as to why those are there. Hopefully that understanding is more than simply having to write an essay (which personally I don't find an effective learning tool here, from my experience, but others do).


Whenever children break rules, I also consider what their motivations are for doing so, and whether they broke the rules because they weren't good rules. I won't tell you how much screen time is appropriate - an hour is less than we allow our nine year old, but it's not unreasonbly less; but I will suggest that you both think yourself, and talk with your child, about whether they are the right limits.

We upped our limits during the pandemic, because we found that our children didn't have any socialization time without their screens; with their screens they can have chats with their friends and play together. It's not as good as playing in person, but it was necessary in our case to have any sort of socialization.

The only way you can find out, though, is to talk to him and find out what his reasoning is. Consider whether you'd be willing to let him have more screen time in exchange for more responsibility - good grades = more time, chores done = more time, that sort of thing. If it's really important to him to have that time, he may well be willing to do other, useful things to earn that responsibility - and then he will feel that he has a way to get what he wants without resorting to lying.


Finally, despite all of that, if you think that your limits are correct, and have done your best to help him learn why they're there - then you should enforce them, and you should take steps necessary. Just think about what the effective steps are, as opposed to punitive.

My son broke a rule related to playing multiplayer games with strangers, which we don't permit; we decided that was something we would stand firm on, and explained to him why. Then we set a restriction on the game in parental controls, that requires him to ask us for permission prior to playing it. It's a trivial thing, but it reminds him that we're thinking about it, and lets us know to pay a bit of attention to it.

Consider doing the same with your son. Put restrictions on the device that require you to approve time. Use appropriate technological safeguards so that the barrier to cheating is higher. It's still likely that a sufficiently motivated child could defeat the safeguards; but you'll probably figure that out (if my son suddenly stopped asking me for time in his game, I'd wonder why), and the point is to have a minimal barrier to stop casual cheating, like the alarms at store exits. Professional thieves don't care about them at all, but it deters casual theft, which (as we're taught in Loss Prevention classes in retain management) is sufficient to deter most people that could be deterred.

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  • Thanks for your response. We've repeatedly made clear that he can spend more time on devices if he does his homework, his sports etc. One hour limit does not consider the time watching TV when his sibling is watching and also the time spent playing video games at his friends houses. Nov 30 '20 at 19:48
  • If he has these options, then I think the right thing to do is to ask why he felt that he couldn't make use of those options if he felt he needed more time. My son often objects to the time given by chores/etc.; he knows that he can push back, and I will consider his arguments, and if I don't change my mind then he has to make the choice of whether it's worth it or not. But for the most part we are very consistent, and so the cases where that happens are fairly rare.- he knows he gets half an hour for this chore, 15 minutes for that, and accepts it.
    – Joe
    Nov 30 '20 at 20:05
  • His response is that all his friends have unlimited time. From the outside, it appears to be true too. My argument is that for every friend he shows as an example for spending 7-8 hrs on the screen, I will show 10 other kids who are excelling towards a goal - so that argument should not be used - that he needs to balance working towards his goals with entertainment. Dec 1 '20 at 22:02
  • @BoringPanda It's hard to deal with that, when you're the "strict" parent compared to his friends' parents. But it's still very possible (hopefully) to have the conversation about why it's important not to have unlimited screen time; what his friends do or don't do shouldn't matter. As long as you have good reasons and can explain them, that should be sufficient in the long run - as he'll learn from your example.
    – Joe
    Dec 1 '20 at 22:21
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    This is not about self-control; I legitimately do not understand why there would be an issue with unlimited screen time. By imposing a limit, you are taking away a person's ability to exercise their own self-control. Do not mistake "unlimited screen time" for "constant screen time". Dec 4 '20 at 16:18
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As a parent I sympthesize with your plight of getting your child away from the screens. Personally I find that also one of the biggest challenges of parenting sofar. However what I don't understand why are you so upset about him "cheating". I personally think it is a pretty smart trick for a 10-year old to use a lesser sin as a decoy. A good academic record coupled together with some talent in deception can bring you pretty far in life. Nobody ever became CEO of a big company or President by always telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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  • Maybe so, as a parent I am not encouraging cheating or lying in kids. Dec 11 '20 at 2:29

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