Do distractions come from digital devices alone?
No, according to Nir Eyal, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of focus and habit formation. He explains that there are multiple external and internal triggers in our children’s lives that are stealing their focus, including parents themselves.
While it’s easy to snatch away an iPad (external trigger for distraction), what’s way more beneficial is to teach kids to deal with their internal triggers for distraction: which is often inner discomfort or pain.
Here are seven ways you can help children manage their distractability.
1. Start With a Simple Device
When it comes to technology and raising indistractable children in the digital age, parents often go to extremes. Some address technopanic by restricting the usage of digital devices, while others give their children too much and too soon without addressing it at all.
Nir Eyal uses a pool analogy to demonstrate one of these extremes:
“When a kid is learning to enjoy the water, they start out at the shallow end. You don’t allow them to swim in deeper waters before they get competent enough. In the same way, when it comes to digital devices, you want to start with a simple device that only makes calls and sends messages.”
How do you know when your kid is ready?
Ask them directly if they know how to turn off notifications when they need to focus on a task or if they can be device-free with their friends. Their answer will be your answer.
When they know how to use the in-built features for turning off external triggers, such as the Do Not Disturb feature, it’s a sign that they’re ready.
2. Remove All Triggers Causing Distractions
It’s not really realistic to expect your kids to be able to manage external triggers from technologies on their own. It’s your responsibility as a parent to provide a distraction-free environment that helps your kids get things done.
To be indistractable, your kids should:
- Get plenty of sleep. Remove anything that flickers or makes sounds from their bedrooms.
- Be uninterrupted. Honor their schedule — the times they have to focus on something, be that work or play.
3. Honor Their Autonomy Over Their Time
According to the self-determination theory, having a great sense of autonomy is one of the three most essential needs of any child to thrive.
Children have a deep need for freedom and control over their choices. Unlike their scheduled offline lives, they have tremendous autonomy in their online lives. This is why children resort to the virtual world to have that need met.
Nir explains that when children spend too much time in the virtual world, most parents impose even more control over their children in the offline world. And their tactics tend to backfire.
Ask them how much time they want to allocate to studying, playing, being with family and friends, and honor their autonomy.
4. Help Them Schedule Their Activities
Your goal is to teach your kids to spend their time mindfully by making time in their weekly schedule for essential activities. You can start by encouraging them to timeboxing it.
Unlike to-do lists that many adults use to manage their time, timeboxing is one of the most well-studied and powerful methods for getting things done.
Using a tool like this schedule maker, you can help your children timebox their activities, including playing video games or time spent on their digital devices. As long as they are scheduled, any activity is just fine.
Two things to remember:
1. Ensure that their weekly schedules are flexible to adjustments.
2. When they schedule homework, play or hang out with friends, you want to remove potential distractions.
5. Include Plenty of Time for (Non-Digital) Play
Our kids must cultivate relationships with other children offline and outside of school. That’s another one of their non-negotiable needs.
Spontaneous socializing doesn’t come about as often as it used to (no thanks to the pandemic), and many parents restrict their children from playing outdoors. No wonder that children turn to technology to bond with others.
Although socializing in digital environments has multiple benefits, in-person social bonding is crucial to their psychological development. Without it, it will be challenging for them to learn how to interact as equals.
As a parent, make time in their weekly schedules for face-to-face play and encourage them to socialize offline with other kids.
6. Help Them Grow
It’s essential that children feel like they’re good at something, anything. It’s one of their core needs to succeed in the real world.
The current schooling system doesn’t provide an individual approach to meet this need. So our children tend to believe that achieving competence is impossible.
Nir explains, “if they could gain competence in the classroom, they wouldn’t turn to the digital world that provides instant feedback in the form of likes.”
So you want to find other ways to meet this fundamental need for growth and competence.
7. Be Engaged, Interested, and Responsive
The biggest child development study of all time shows that children who had engaged, interested, and responsive parents were more likely to beat the odds, do well at school, and be happy and healthy later in life.
Our job as parents isn’t to force our kids to be who we expect them to be. Our job is to guide them to become indistractable.
And in order to do that, we must make it a priority to understand their fundamental needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. By doing so, not only will you help them thrive as children, you will build an indestructible foundation for their adult life.