5 ways to respond when tech rules get broken

Dr. Delaney Ruston – One of THE most challenging things as a parent is knowing how to respond when our kids break rules around screen time. Over the past two weeks, I have been writing about tech time rules, including the importance of validating our kids for the many times they follow rules and examples of specific rules

What to do when transgressions happen? That’s the focus of today’s post.

1. Stop and let your human emotions happen

When we learn that our kids have broken a tech rule, such as the internet being turned off every night, but we realize our child has been downloading shows in advance to be able to watch late at night, emotions will arise in us. It is common to have a mixture of these and other emotions: 

*Anger (What the #$%!! I have told them so many times that….)

*Hurt (It feels like they don’t respect me) 

*Fear (How worried should I be about all this!?)

*And others

As anxiety expert Lynn Lyons speaks about in Screenagers Next Chapter, when we try to avoid emotions that arise, they can get bigger.

I recommend that when you learn of a transgression, buy some time. Tell your child something like, “You’ve gone around the policy, and I need a bit of time, but then I will be ready to talk about it.” 

Or perhaps,

“You’ve gone around the policy, and I am feeling a bit peeved, but I want to let those feelings run their course so I can talk with you from a cool-headed place. So let’s talk in a couple of hours.”

2. Consult the wise before taking action

It’s a beautiful idea that families would have specified in advance all possible consequences that would accompany any tech time transgressions.

For example, if you watch R-rated shows, that means you get such-and-such consequences. 

If you say that you are doing homework and we find that you were watching YouTube the whole time, you get such-and-such consequences.

Yes, a beautiful idea, but this is impossible. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to have some consequences stated ahead of time. But there will likely be times that something happens, and there is no consequence already in place.  

Given this reality, there are times you need to think of a consequence after the fact. This is where a parenting gold-medal move is in order: Consult with one or two wise friends to get their insight on how they would suggest responding. This wise person would likely be a person whose kids are older than yours, or a teacher, a counselor, etc. They won’t be swept up in emotions, and they have a wealth of experience.

3. Consequences should be short

Kids and teens don’t learn from long and overly punitive consequences. When that happens, they will mainly be focused on being mad at the parent or parents. Short works much better, particularly using the Nurtured Heart Approach, which is about focusing on our kids’ strengths even when they disappoint. So when they break a rule, say, sneak their phone into their room at night that you discover the next day, you might say:

“I know you are responsible and usually good at following rules. Tomorrow we are going to hold onto your phone for the whole evening, but then tomorrow, you get it back because we know you are capable of following the family policy.”

4. Our kids will be mad at us, and that is OK.

It is natural to want to blame others for our pain and our kids will want to blame us. The good news is that by having fair consequences and not overly punishing, we can feel assured that their frustration with us is not the kind that is relationship-scarring. 

5. Don’t overly focus on deception 

Lying, in all its various forms (not disclosing all key information, staying silent, blatantly lying, etc.), is a part of rule-breaking. It is not about purposely trying to hurt a parent or guardian. Yet, per #1 above, our emotions can get activated by deceit.

Some parents have told me, “I just don’t want them to lie, so I really don’t have any rules so that we can just talk about things and lying won’t happen.” 

Remember, life is full of limits, and our homes are safe places where our kids can learn how to follow limits. Also, they can negotiate with us when limits feel overly strict. 

Don’t make the common mistake of overly focusing on any lying that may have happened. Instead, focus on why the rule was broken and how to all move forward with fair consequences and ongoing discussions in which you work together to set policies everyone can live by.

Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. What consequences do we as a family have in place for any of our tech time rules?
  2. Are these consequences still seem reasonable?
  3. If we don’t have any, should we try and create some together?