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How do I break my kids' electronic dependency?

I have 2 children ages 9 and 11. Both are growing increasingly preoccupied with their electronic devices and less interested with doing anything else.

My 11 year old daughter can literally watch YouTube on her tablet in her room from the time she gets up until the time she goes to bed. My 9 year old son plays video games either on the PC, on his tablet or on the PS4.

It's like pulling teeth to get them to do anything with us, their parents, and that is devastating to me. The complaints and resistance and (in my son's case) the wailing and crying and "why do you hate me" and "I guess you don't love me" comments really take their toll.

I have a list on fridge of over 25 family fun ideas and they are never interested in doing any of them. These are all things that in the past we all had a lot of fun doing. Still age appropriate things.

About the only thing they will do with us is go out to eat, and even that is typically stressful, because as soon as they are done eating half their food (at best) they begin to get restless, and they nag us to hurry up, and they hit each other and start wandering around and being loud.

Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.


Karen K. Meyer | Pediatrician

Karen K. Meyer

Begin by taking away the electronic devices; you bought the devices, so you own them--your children do not own them. If they were gifts--it is still your house and you make the rules.

If they follow your rules, they can have the "privilege" of one hour of "electronic device" time per day. For example, if they cannot sit at the table while eating out, or are hitting each other, they lose the privilege of playing for one hour on the electronic devices. I wouldn't sit them next to each other at the table, anyway, to avoid the possibility they will hit each other, as siblings like to do :)

Just like with anything you do, practicing this technique and being consistent, will cause the fights and the arguments to burn themselves out as the children start to rediscover there are other things they can do besides playing electronic devices. When there is no choice, they will find other things to do. If they can't, they can try reading a book in their room or having some "down time" in their bedroom. They can also earn electronic device time by doing chores around the house.

Do not take it to heart when your son says "why do you hate me?" or "I guess you don't love me". Remember, love is setting boundaries for your children; you are not required to be their best friend.

When a toddler throws a temper tantrum, we advise ignoring the behavior and not giving in to the demand setting off the temper tantrum, so as not to reinforce the behavior (i.e. the child gets what he wants if he throws a fit). Your 9 year old obviously is not a toddler, but the behavior is similar in that he thinks by saying this you will give in to what he wants.

Be strong! Love is setting limits!

Read more answers by Dr. Meyer