Tired of fighting a constant tech battle in your family? I've got ya covered.
The Kitchen Safe Saves Parents
I watch Shark Tank. It's incredibly addictive but that's cool.... I'm a therapist. If I can find a way to bill my insurance for it I'll treat myself. Specifically, I'm a Family Therapist. This is important because I spend a great deal of time working with parents to solve every day problems. One of the most common struggles I hear is from parents who are trying to teach moderation and life-balance but are up against a barrage of attention grabbing devices. We want our kids to have fun stuff like phones and video games but we also want them to do things like, ya know, sleep and eat. That becomes an issue when our kids get way too into their gadgets. Tell me if this sounds familiar... at dinner or bedtime you try to calmly tell your kid to put the tablet away and you get this.....
So you slowly back away while leaving a trail of dead fish in the hopes that this animal that vaguely resembles your sweet child will follow the trail all the way to the dinner table. If this has happened to you, do two things. First, don't make any sudden movements. I'm pretty sure their vision is based on movement (I think I heard that somewhere). Second, read on....
Teaching kids to appropriately manage their technology fails for two primary reasons. One, because they badger you constantly or go into full-on martyr mode because their life is so clearly awful. Basically your kid is either playing XBox or complaining that they're not playing XBox. Neither of those is a win for you. The second reason is a bit harder to swallow; you're kind of a pushover. When they badger you, you relent. Or you let them play until 9:00 even though technically the rule is 8:00 but you just want to delay the battle a little longer and hey, Shark Tank is still on! Well lucky you. This particular Shark Tank featured something that's going to save you. Did you catch it? If not, let me help you out. Pushovers and parents of badgers, I present to you.... The Kitchen Safe.
The Kitchen Safe is exactly what it sounds like. It's a kitchen container you can't get into. When you close the lid on the Kitchen Safe, you set a timer and it locks. What makes it so amazing for parents is this... there's no override. There's no key, no password, no sweet compliments, rain dances, or flattery that's opening that thing. The only way in is to wait out the timer. Which means, when sweet little Timmy gives you those puppy dog eyes and says, "Mama, I promise I'll only play for 5 minutes and I was so good today can I pleeeeeeeeeease have the controller for my XBox." Your answer is, "Timmy. I'm proud of you for being good but the controller is in the Kitchen Safe. Even if I wanted to give it to you, I can't. There's no way to open it. Remember, your XBox time isn't limited because you're in trouble. It's limited because you don't need to spend all your time on the XBox". Then you walk away victoriously as the Rocky Theme plays in your head.
When you first implement this thing your kid won't believe you. He'll think you're keeping something from him. Let him inspect the thing. When he realizes there's truly and sincerely no way to get his controller, watch in amazement as he...... wait for it....... accepts it and finds something else to do. I've recommended this thing for parents of kids hooked on video games and for parents of kids who can't seem to regulate their cell phone usage. I'll give you two quick examples of how I've done it.
The Cell Phone Teen
I worked with a family whose teenage daughter was glued to her cell phone. I know, shocker, right? Here's what we did. We brought in the Kitchen Safe and placed it on the counter. Next to it we put a little chart that broke down the following; If the phone was in the safe by 9:00 the timer was set for 10 hours. This meant the kid could have it back at 7am the following day. If it was placed in the safe between 9:00 and 9:05, the timer was set for 22 hours, meaning she could have it back at 7pm the following day (which only gave her 2 hours with the phone that day). If it was placed in the safe between 9:05 and 9:10 the timer was set for 34 hours. The chart kept going like that, adding 12 hours for every 5 minutes that the phone wasn't in the safe.
It worked. The daughter had her phone in on time virtually every night. She was a minute or so late one night but it only happened once. She didn't enjoy seeing that "22 hours" on the timer. Now here's the craziest part... her parents said the first few times they did this she pouted a little in a typical teenage huffy fashion (that's a word, right?). But, because those actions didn't change the outcome of the situation in ANY way, she stopped after a few days. Remember, kids are more resilient than we are. They can adjust to a new normal. This young lady accepted that her pouting wasn't accomplishing anything and eventually gave it up. Mom said it took a week or so but it eventually became a fairly painless part of her routine.
The XBox Kid
I don't typically use the word "addiction" with sixth graders, but this kid fit the profile. His attachment to his XBox was downright frightening. Now, I should mention that as a therapist, my first recommendation was to get rid of it. However, mom wasn't excited about that and wanted to try to regulate it first. I won't walk you through the stuff that's repeated from the Cell Phone Teen but I'll give you this...
We did the same thing. The controllers and the power cord for the XBox had to be in the safe by 8:00 every night and there was a chart next to it but it was a bit different this time. The timer was set for 22 hours EVERY NIGHT. Which means he only had access to it for 2 hours per day. If the controls were in the safe between 8:00 and 8:05 the timer was set for 23 hours, giving him 1 hour the next day. If they were in the safe between 8:05 and 8:10 the timer was set for 46 hours, meaning he'd lost it for a day. You get the point. So even if this little guy got home before mom (which he did), he couldn't get into his XBox controllers or power cord.
The main problem this mom was having was the she caved after he hounded her enough. She knew that. I give her a ton of credit for being willing to admit it and this little device was a life saver for her. It allowed her to follow through but more importantly, because she wasn't struggling so mightily with follow through, it allowed her to actually see how powerful follow through can be.
One other note: if you do this, don't hound the kid. Part of learning responsibility is learning to do things without having to be nagged or badgered into it. Set the expectation that the phone is in the safe at 9:00. When it's 8:58 and she's still on it, that's not your concern. She knows the rule. Set the timer based on when she puts it in the safe. If she's 10 minutes late as long as you stick to your chart, there's absolutely no need for a lecture. Stay calm. Don't be mad. She knew the rule, she broke it, she pays the price according to the chart. You don't need to lecture her on responsibility. The Kitchen Safe keeping her from her phone is doing that for you. If you can be disciplined enough to stay off her back about it, this lesson will stick because you don't get in the way of it. Again, DON'T GET MAD. What do you have to be mad about anyway? She's the one who's now without her phone. Don't inflame the situation by piling on.
The specifics in your home will vary but regardless of what it looks like, I strongly suggest this thing. You'll be amazed at how freeing it is to have something put away with no option to get it back. For some, it's the kids. For others, it may be the parents. Maybe mom and dad need to put their phones away at dinner or during family game time (which you're totally having every week... at least that's what it says on your Facebook page... although I'm beginning to suspect that maybe those profiles aren't a totally honest reflection of real life. Nah, now I'm just talking crazy!). Maybe this little contraption will take one or two of your daily struggles and make them a bit easier. Or maybe you'll go really bonkers and actually use it for what it was designed for... junk food!
I'm not being paid by Kitchen Safe. I don't know them, they don't know me. I'll make no money off of endorsing their product. I'm a Marriage and Family Therapist who makes recommendations when I see something that can help your family. Go get this thing. It's crazy effective.
Here's the website: http://www.thekitchensafe.com/
And if you think I'm lying and that I'm getting a royalty off of clicks, don't click that link. Just google search "Kitchen Safe" and get to it that way.
One of the most challenging aspects of working with kids is getting them to understand why you're frustrated with them, what they did wrong, and how they can fix it. If you've ever tried to talk to a kid in trouble you know exactly what I mean. We ask questions like, "why did you hit him with your shoe?" and then get angry when they don't have a good explanation ("I don't know.. because I couldn't reach the hammer?").
So we pepper the kid with questions that don't really have good answers while the kid clings to any aspect of the story that may somehow get him off the hook. Then..... they start talking. That's when things get interesting. You get a story that has no real beginning or end with plot twists that not only catch you off guard, but have absolutely nothing to do with anything that's ever happened. Your kid is in trouble for hitting with a shoe and you're talking about just about everything but that.
When the conversation gets cloudy like this, you're in trouble. It's probably not going to end where you want it to. The more the kid talks you away from his actions the less likely he is to make a connection when you implement a consequence. Here's what I mean.... if you're talking to a child about something that just happened and find yourself sifting through stories that don't really connect with what you're discussing, the kid is now taking you on a wild ride through Blamesville and my guess is that by the end of it he will have convinced himself that he's only in trouble because some other kid did something wrong or because you're mean. You will have made whatever connection needed to be made, but the kid didn't follow you because he talked himself off the map completely.
You may tell me, "I'm fine. Even when he talks the story all over the place I know what he did wrong and that's what he gets in trouble for." Great, but you're not the one I'm worried about. Your kid is confusing himself and is far less likely to connect the consequence to his actions when he's spent 5 minutes digging for things that someone else did wrong.
I'm here to help. This is something I do with kids on a regular basis and lately, I've used it with a few adults (but we'll get to that later). It's one of the simplest things I do. I keep a stack of dry erase boards in my office. They're 12 inch by 12 inch squares so big enough to be seen but small enough to avoid being intrusive. As a child is telling me a story about something that got them in trouble, I quietly hand them a dry erase board and marker. Then before they get too far into the story, I ask them to draw a circle.
Nothing fancy. Just a circle. Now tell me what happened. I want to hear their perspective. They have the floor and are allowed to go with the story as they see it. But, I may interrupt here and there because as they tell me their version of what happened, I ask one small favor.....
Have you ever looked at the text messages your kid is sending and despite the fact that you're staring directly at them, realized you still have no clue what's being said? That's because they're speaking a foreign language. Let's call it textanese. They speak it, you don't. That means you've got some catching up to do.
The first step towards healthy tech use in the family is education. Because the fact is, you can't manage what's out there if you don't know what's out there. Below is a list of some common acronyms you should probably be familiar with. Use it to help you unravel the hieroglyphics your kids are using in their digital communication. It certainly isn't an exhaustive list but it's a start. If you really want to go nuts....download the pdf at the bottom of this post. It's got about a hundred more.
And please remember, if you see something on your kids' phone that you don't understand, do two things. First, ask your kid about it. Second, verify it. Do a quick google search. Odds are if your kid is using it, so are the rest of them.
Here's the list. Again.... the pdf at the end of this post has tons more and is downloadable for easy printing and saving.
Read. Learn. Look smart.
1. IWSN - I want sex now
2. GNOC - Get naked on camera
3. NIFOC - Naked in front of computer
4. PIR - Parent in room
5. CU46 - See you for sex
6. 53X - Sex
7. 9 - Parent watching
8. 99 - Parent gone
9. 1174' - Party meeting place
10. CID - Acid
11. Broken - Hungover
12. 420 - Marijuana
13. POS - Parent over shoulder
14. SUGARPIC - Suggestive or erotic photo
15. KOTL - Kiss on the lips
16. (L)MIRL - Let's meet in real life
17. PRON - Porn
18. TDTM - Talk dirty to me
19. 8 - Oral sex
20. CD9 - Parents around/Code 9
21. IPN - I'm posting naked
22. LH6 - Let's have sex
23. WTTP - Want to trade pictures?
24. TWD - Texting while driving
25. GYPO - Get your pants off
I work with parents every day. One of the most common issues I run into is parents who decide to confiscate a kids phone as a consequence and it turning into a Chernobyl level meltdown that's way worse than whatever the kid was in trouble for to begin with. Right off the bat let me say this, taking a kids phone can be perfectly appropriate. It shouldn't be your go-to option every time they get in trouble simply because you know it hurts but it can definitely be effective. But, if you're going to to do it, do it like this....
1. Talk about it ahead of time
I realize you can't possibly prepare for everything your child is ever going to do wrong but that shouldn't stop
Creating A Family Tech Plan
Technology is infiltrating every aspect of our lives..... I'm ok with that. I like technology. I find it interesting and admit to purchasing completely unnecessary gadgets simply because "it's the new one". My family and I live on 8 acres in the country and while I love it, I absolutely despise the fact that we have to use HughesNet (And for the record, if I ever meet Hughes I'm gonna kick him in the teeth. He and his 10 gigabytes for like a thousand bucks a month can.......... ya know what, nevermind).
Technology is great. The fact that you're walking around with a machine in your pocket capable of accessing the breadth of human knowledge is nothing short of miraculous. Honestly. Think about it. We're living in an age where saying "I don't know" is rarely necessary. If you don't know you can find out instantly. Quick, what was the name of the actor who played "Johnny" in Karate Kid? Unless it was you, you don't know. It was William Zabka. That took 2 seconds. Siri man. She was on it. If you already knew that, thank you for reading Mr. Zabka.
So these devices are little digital miracles. Problem is, you have no clue how it works. For all you know there's a team of magic fairies in there who carry out all of your requests. They access that breadth of human
Weaving Technology Into Family Life Without Disconnecting from Each Other, Or, The Connected Connected Family; an Overview
A big chunk of this website is dedicated to teaching families how to use technology to strengthen family ties and how to avoid it becoming a problem. However, I thought it might help to boil all of that info down into a manageable read. That way you can get a broad overview of how to do it in your family, then dig through the rest of this site to get the nuts and bolts. So.... below are the absolute basics of how technology can work for your family rather than against it. Follow the links for more information about a specific topic.
1. Create a plan
Families should have an open conversation about what's acceptable and what's not. Part of that conversation should involve the creation of a technology plan. This plan should lay out some ground rules for when it's okay to be consumed with your phone and when it's not. What time do you want phones to be put away? What types of apps are acceptable? What happens when someone steps outside the plan? Talk about it.
One note.... it shouldn't exclusively target your kids. What I mean is, if you decide they need to be off their phone by 8:00, you should be off yours too. It's a healthy habit to employ and if it's not modeled, it will be a fight. They'll argue endlessly about why it's okay for you to be on your phone but they can't be on theirs, and they'll probably be right.
2. Digital privacy doesn't really exist, even in your house
Anything your kids post to a website is now readily accessible. In addition, if your kids are spending time on apps that are connected to mass groups of people, they're readily accessible too. So, adopt a family rule that no one locks screens and make a habit of looking through all of your kids social media accounts from their
Ryan Smith, LMFT, LPC
Family Therapist, husband, dad, guy trying to make your life easier