How to Curb Your Kid’s Screen Addiction

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My five-year old lost the privilege of being on her tablet yesterday because she wouldn’t get off when I told her to get off. Ten minutes after I told her to get off, she was still on it. I took the tablet away, but two hours later, I caught her in the closet playing games on my phone. What do I do now? -Tabitha, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Tabitha,

Your kid has a very simple problem, and I have a very simple solution.

Her five-year old brain has no chance of not getting addicted to a tablet that has games and apps (even educational ones) that are designed to make her addicted to them.

I have known street drug addicts who also lie and cheat in order to get their drug. Your kid is willing to do this to get hers.

Red flag.

Here’s what I will suggest, and if you are like most American parents, you will think that this is a crazy overreaction. Ready?

Completely take away her tablet and never give it back.

In the very unlikely event that you think that this is reasonable, you can skip to the line that reads “Here’s how I would deliver the bad news.” If you think this is unrealistic, bad advice (90% of American parents feel this way, I suspect), keep reading.

Here goes:

What is the downside of taking away a tablet from your kid? Do you think she NEEDS a tablet? If so, that’s a profoundly stupid position. All human children, literally since the dawn of time until nine years ago, grew up without a computer tablet. Were all of them stunted and deprived?*

*Answer: No

Is your kid’s tablet making them happy?*

*Answer: No

In fact, we now have scientific proof that use of screens can cause depression in kids and adults.

If your kid has been using a tablet consistently for any significant period of time, it is likely that other, less stimulating activities have become less interesting to her. These activities may include playing with blocks, reading, running outside, playing sports, and talking to other people. You don’t have to convince her to do these things, YOU JUST HAVE TO TAKE AWAY THE TABLET.

If you are like many parents in 2020, you may be thinking, “I can’t take the tablet. She won’t like that.” You are bigger than her: Just take away the tablet.

Will she become upset when you take the tablet? Of course she will. You are removing a stimulus that is exponentially more stimulating than anything else in the world besides hard street drugs (don’t let her have those either). It lights her brain up like a Christmas tree every time she uses it. I would be very worried about your kid if she didn’t get upset about the removal of this drug-like stimulus from her life.

Finally, you may be worried about her behaviors being too difficult to handle without the tablet. You will no longer have the option of handing her this drug to soothe her while you are cooking dinner. Welcome to the world of every single parent who ever lived prior to 2011.

Is this too harsh? At this point, I don’t care. Your kid’s neurological health and happiness are at stake.

Here’s how I would deliver the bad news:

Kid Whisperer: Yeesh. Yesterday I was really disappointed when you didn’t get off the tablet, and I was even more disappointed when you took my phone and played games in the closet.

Kid: I was simply fulfilling my needs for bright colors and silly sounds. It is your job to fulfill my needs, so…

Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. I think I owe you an apology. Your brain has gotten really used to the fun of these screens. Apparently, you love these screens so much that you are willing to be dishonest in order to have time with screens. From now on you will not be allowed to use tablets or phones.

Kid: That is an unfunny joke.

Kid Whisperer: Yeesh. This is likely to be very disappointing. Feel free to cry and be upset. You will be allowed to have a tablet again as soon as you are 18 and can afford to buy one. The good news is that by the time you reach adulthood, tablets will probably cost about a dollar.

Kid throws a tantrum by throwing herself on the ground and making The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

Kid Whisperer walks to his bedroom and reads a book.

While difficult for both you and your kid, this may be the most important thing you ever do for her.