One of the biggest concerns of the modern-day parent is how not to let gadgets take over the lives of young children. “We want to raise kids who connect with people. We don't want to raise kids who are entitled,” says Michelle Lichauco-Tambunting, co-founder and directress of Young Creative Minds Preschool. Michelle, who graduated from Harvard University with master's degree in education, was one of the guest speakers at Smart Parenting's Mom Workshop: Raising Toddlers held last March 18 at the Makati Diamond Residences.
During her talk on how to raise kids in the digital age, Lichauco-Tambunting shared a few valuable and practical tips that she uses on her two sons.
1. Don’t fight screens. “We're living in a world where the digital age is here. It's a reality. It's a tool that's necessary,” says Michelle. “If there's something my 9-year-old son doesn't know, the first thing he does is do a search for it online. We are living in a digital age that's just going to get complex and complicated. If I stop him from it, mahuhuli siya.” So, she adds, the best thing to do is to learn how to best work with gadgets and devices, not against them.
2. Monitor your screen-time use. Remember your first goal is to connect with your kids, says Michelle. When we’re in front of screens, our kids feel disconnected from us. “As our digital lives grow, our physical lives shrink.
“We model so much for our children unconsciously. In the car, I have to put a pause button on myself and say, ‘You know what, my son just got out school, maybe we can talk about that instead of me checking my email or Instagram feed.’ We need to make an effort. If we want the digital world to work for us, we all need to learn to control it,” says Michelle. And that includes you, mom.
3. Let the gadget be your last defense. It’s easy to give a grouchy child a phone to keep him sitting still and quiet, but you can do the same using other items, too. “Let gadgets and screens be your last defense. Have these gadgets with you by all means -- they are necessary especially now. [But] teach kids that there are other things they can play with,” says Michelle. It is especially crucial during the summer break where gadgets and screens are easily within reach. “My second son has autism, and there's no TV in his room. He doesn't look at the TV because he never grew up with it,” she adds.
When out of the house, Michelle has this strategy for her special needs son that you can try, too. “I take a plastic envelope filled with crayons and paper. He likes stickers and tape, so I have that there also. I have it with me when we go to a restaurant or if we're in the car or on a plane. I bring it first -- that's my secret weapon. I have my phone and the tablet, but I try not to let it get to that point,” she shares.
Here’s another tip: bring three books. “If the first book turns out to be boring, then you have the second and third. My eldest son grew up knowing that when we're going on a long car ride, he packs his bag with things he's chosen to keep him entertained and busy.”
4. Discuss the rules. Take the time to sit down the older kids, and have a talk about gadget use. Michelle shares that her conversation with her 9-year-old went something like this: “We understand that you need to be on the Internet. But your brain gets sick with too much screen-time.” Then afterward, they talked about the rules, wrote them down and signed the paper as an agreement. “We want him to feel that we're trying to include him in the decision-making process,” says Michelle.
The written and signed agreement will make the rule implementation a lot easier for parents. When your child complains about his screen-time, remind her that you talked about the rules and that she agreed with them, Michelle advises. Her son has 30 minutes of free screen-time use, and it’s up to him whether he wants to use it all in one go or break it down to 15 minutes each, one for now and another for later. “He’s learned to time by himself already,” she shares.
5. Reserve a screen-free time for the whole family. Have a time where the family just stops to be together. Sunday is a family day for Michelle’s family. They schedule a whole day to be with each other and not be preoccupied with their phones and tablets. Yes, even the grown-ups. “It’s hard sometimes, but we need to stay connected to each other,” says Michelle.