What should I do when my 8-year-old won’t stop asking me for a cellphone and other gadgets?

What should I do when my 8-year-old won’t stop asking me for a cellphone and other gadgets? 150 150 Mediatrics

Leo-white-bkgrnd (2)Q: My 8-year-old son sees a lot of kids around him with iPods, iPads, video games, and phones, and keeps asking us for them. Even though we have explained that he doesn’t need all of these electronics and expose him to lots of other activities, the peer pressure is getting to him. What can I say to my son when he asks for yet another gadget [Video]?!
ifrustrated, in Pawtucket, RI

 A: Dear ifrustrated,

What you’re describing makes perfect sense. Kids at this age start to really focus on fitting in with their peers, and that’s part of why there’s such a strong pull to have what everyone else has. When it comes to technology, this developmentally normal behavior can make it extra challenging to maintain the boundaries you’ve set—especially when other kids have their own gadgets or are allowed to spend more time using them than you allow your son.

Your son is showing that he needs to be involved in making decisions about when and how he uses media. And as he grows and spends more of his day in school or at other people’s houses, he will have more responsibility for maintaining those boundaries himself. Part of your role as a parent is to help him learn to be responsible for his media use whether you are with him or not.

So when your son asks for another gadget, don’t say no right away—instead, involve him in the decision. Have a conversation with him in which you:

  • Treat media as ‘tools’—not as playthings. If he’s asking for a smartphone, ask him, “What do you want to use it for?”, and then listen to and discuss his answer. For example, if he wants one because “everyone else has one”, explain that media are tools to be used for a specific purpose. Say that you understand it’s hard not to have what other kids have, especially when it seems like everyone else has it. Let him know that that is not the right reason to get that tool right now, and that you understand if he’s upset.
  • Talk about how he sees it fitting into his day. Ask him what he likes to do when he’s not engaging with media [Video], and talk about where those things fit into his day. Then talk about how media can fit in without replacing those other things. By building his schedule around what he does want to include, rather than focusing on limiting media time, you can avoid making media—or this particular gadget—into the ‘forbidden fruit’.
  • Address cost. If you would be fine with him having a particular item but feel that the cost is too great, use it as an opportunity to teach him about saving money for something he wants.
  • Have him help set rules. If and when you do decide that it’s time to incorporate a new media tool into his life, have him be part of the process of setting rules around how and how often he uses it. Then, as he shows you that he can handle this responsibility, increase his freedom to build his confidence and sense of mastery.
  • Remind him that all media—including those he owns—are subject to house rules. Be consistent and up front with the house rules you set around media [Video]. Make sure your son knows that the rules apply to all media, even those his friends bring over and those he buys himself.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®