Closed September 2017

The Biggest Problem in My House

Videogamecontroller2 I have two teenage sons, ages 14 and 16. They are wonderful kids, they never get into any serious trouble, and they have nice friends. The problem is the Technology Tether. The kids are upstairs, we are downstairs… They are on the X-Box or the computer at every available opportunity. I carry the torch for "more quality time" and "less screen time" to the point that I am becoming a predictable caricature of myself. This has been going on for years and is sincerely the single biggest problem we have in our home, bar none. It causes arguments, resentment, distance, and other problems, not to mention that it's unhealthy for developing minds.

My colleague Peter Walsh was on Oprah yesterday with his "STRIPPED DOWN" approach to helping a family get unplugged and reconnected. It's so wonderful that people are talking about this problem! I know we are not the only ones– and I know that it could be much worse.

Peter provided organizational help like closets and laundry systems, along with putting all of their technology in a "vault" for a week until they re-discovered what it was like to be a family and have quality communication and time together again. Organizing is definitely a piece of the puzzle, because clutter causes stress in the home too.

Along with managing our own time and activities, we have to help kids learn to manage their own. Over the years we have tried various things with our technology issues… one of the better successes we've had is the Time Scout device. It's a card reader device that controls the power to your electronic equipment– in our case, video game consoles. Each child has a card that they swipe to start the power flowing, and it shows them how much time they have remaining to play. It gives them a warning beep to give them time to save their game, then it shuts it all down. Ahhh! I talked with the Time Scout people, and they are going to give you guys 10% off if you use the coupon code "clutterdiet" in their shopping cart.

Another product we've enjoyed using is Enuff, a software application that limits computer time. Each child has his own login, and you can set up different settings for different kids, evenings vs. days, weekends vs. weekdays, specific programs to use or not, etc.  I think they have thought of everything! And it's tamper-proof if you have tech-savvy kids, too.

Even with tools like these, it's still a constant battle and a "policing" type of feeling. Gaming is an addictive behavior…and they are actually not even into texting (yet?)! We do have family dinners, which is one of the best ways to help everyone feel more connected (that is why planning your menus is so important, so you can make that happen!). What is your experience with this issue? Share in the comments!

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Genny Esterline

Way to go! This is an issue that hits home to every parent in our times. I remember the struggles well, happy that I knew where my children and their friends were yet still having the disconnect feeling. Computers are a way of life now. Schools require homework that involve the internet. I am enjoying Skype with my children now that they are spread out over the country. And Oh the games played. Time limits, however put in place, are important. Another thing I did was sit down and play some of the games with them.
Great post Lorie!


What did you do as a teenager?
I remember that video games weren’t around but I spent ages in my room reading anything I could get my hands on and listening to rock music. While I loved my parents I resented the Sunday drives I was made to go on because they were soooo boring.
With that perspective I try to understand that my teenagers don’t always want me around or spend time with me. It’s not that they dislike me it’s just that their friends are more interesting (at the moment). We have family meals and we have family days out but only if it’s an activity we will ALL enjoy.
I also understand about video games as I play them myself. This makes me more amenable to hours playing a game as long as homework is done and so on which means we have similar reference points to talk about.
Teenagers will always want their own space and yes they do need to be guided into time management and so on. However, I don’t really think that electronic devices that limit time for them are the way to go; how are they going to learn if you are still dictating limits (albeit through an electronic medium and not directly).


In our house, it was a phase. The games sit untouched in a corner in their pretty baskets that I got to house them years ago…
No matter what phase your kids are going through, family dinners are important not only for connection, but also to teach them healthy eating habits that will serve them for life.
Games are still another good family activity. I taught my daughter gin 500 rummy last year. When it’s too cold to do much else, we’ll sit and play and talk for hours.
Sharon – I used to like the Sunday drives. We would drive into rich neighborhoods and look at all the big houses, or to the lake. With my daughter I called it going exploring. Now gas is so expensive, we feel guilty doing it 🙁

Glenna Sadler

We already have this problem with a 9-year-old. Since his time management skills are not well developed (that will take another 10 years!), we have set predetermined limits. When he begins playing a game on the computer or his DS, we set a kitchen timer. When the buzzer rings, he has to save and log off. We aren’t continually harping at him and he knows that the time we set was the time he got. When he abuses this privilege, then I change his password on the computer or take his DS for a few days to remind him that they are only games and should not take up his every waking moment.


My 6 year old loves the Wii. And I too realized how much time he was spending on it. He now has to earn time and he’s not allowed more than 1 hr a day. Sometimes on the weekends if he does more things he earns more time (but can’t play more than 1 hr at a time).

Jo Myatt

We have all the electronic stuff too, but about a year ago I put my foot down, and now we have ‘Game Night’. We play the old standards Yahtzee, dominoes, scrabble, pictoinary, Uno, spades, all good table games. We started off just once a month, and then it got to be such a fun thing, we sometimes have game night every week. If the kids want to invite friends thats ok, learning to be social is becoming a lost art, we may not be organizing, but we are COMMUNICATING!! and that goes a long way when its time to sort socks!!


I have a 12-year old and a 9-year old daughter, so video games are not quite as big in our house. However, they are still popular, as is the TV, computer, and the new Wii. I do cherish our no-tech, no screens dinners together, but I have found ways to incorporate technology into together time. We all enjoy competing with each other on the simple Wii games and that gets us talking and laughing together. Another person-to-person activity is geocaching. You can read a lot about what it is on the web. GPS devices have gotten much less expensive and some phones even have GPS capability. Geocaching has been great, especially for a an outdoor activity that requires talking and cooperation.
And I’m even going to try a scavenger hunt where folks use their phones and text message in order to play. Regular board games are things we enjoy too.


Interesting link between home organization and freeing up time by limiting the use of technology. I like the idea of putting all our technology “in a vault” for a week. Sounds like a mighty fine idea so we know we are not really addicted to all our gadgets!


Banning teenagers from using technology outright just because YOU want to spend time with them sounds highly controlling and draconian. First they are trying to form their own identity and have to have their own space to a reasonable extent, they have their own interests.. and they might find you boring, sorry to say. [It’s not your fault you have to be the responsible grown up and are older with different interests – it’s not even a bad thing; kids want you to be the grown up parent, not a friend, setting just enough restrictions to show you care without smothering them completely] But you love your kids and you still want to spend time with them possibly? ok, well how about teaching them that socializing and communicating with you/other human beings face-to-face is good, maybe even fun, and has it’s rewards. Try to find activities you could share together – with or without involving technology. Maybe outdoor activities, weekend trips/camping (in warmer weather), making meal time shared time, take a positive interest in your children instead of just telling them off and what to do – if you’re very negative, why would they want to spend time with you? I think you just should consider approaching this in a more positive way that doesn’t create resentment, arguments and probably sneaking behind your back to do what they want to do. If you want your kid to hate you, turn your home into a fascist state and make sure everything is 100% your way no matter what. Take away their cell phone, maybe they’ll buy their own pay as you go; put parental controls on your pc, maybe they’ll learn to hack it; maybe they’ll start spending more time at their friends house and playing on their games console (a step in the right direction in terms of human interaction – but YOU still won’t see your kid)… you can get what you want without starting a war and you’ll be very glad you did it in a way that made your kids WANT to spend time with you/away from their technology in the end.
[ps: sorry for the really long post. i feel strongly about parents being control freaks/smothering though – i know how damaging it can be.]

Alyce Gatlin

One of our family’s favorite things to do is to hang out in the living room. “Dad” reads classic literature aloud, while “son” plays with Legos and K’Nex and “mom” works a jigsaw puzzle. The story often sparks great conversation and although we’re all doing something different, we’re doing it together. And it’s low tech.
Another family favorite is to sit down at the computer together. Each person takes a turn looking up something interesting on YouTube and sharing it with everyone. The last time we did this we watched old videos of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance, comic routines by Bill Cosby, and magic tricks by David Copperfield. We also watched trains in India and random dance routines in public places: ie a group of people on a subway dancing the “Thriller.”
It can be pretty fun and with everyone getting a turn, we see quite a variety of movie clips.
Balance … that’s the key. And a very hard one to achieve.

Lorie Marrero

VERY interesting points here! Thank you, everyone!
Liberty– I am so sorry that you experienced some over-controlling parents. I want to clarify a bit– your saying “fascist” kind of inflamed my feelings a bit, I must admit… as we are anything but!
With the boys being teenagers they have outgrown the Time Scout device– it was very effective when they were younger but now we have transitioned into more negotiation and agreements of trust, because being older they have increased ability to monitor and limit themselves. And we removed Enuff software as part of these negotiations as well. We still impose consequences though, when those agreements are not kept, like waking up at 4AM and finding them still playing… that is our job as parents.
When kids are younger they really NEED to have limits and help to enforce those limits– otherwise it’s like keeping a big bowl of candy and junk food on the table and expecting the kids not to eat more than they should. I see gaming as the same as junk food…some is fun, but too much is extremely detrimental, and young kids have very little ability to monitor their consumption. Our home is run very democratically and these tools were used to enforce agreements we had reached WITH our kids.
I will add… that when there were times we got fed up with things and took all technology away for a week or two, there were a few times when the kids each came to me privately and admitted they were happier not having the games available all the time!! They liked being forced to get creative again with how they spent their time. They felt happier and more balanced when they did other activities outdoors or spent more time reading or drawing, etc. The problem is that if gaming is available, they will choose gaming 100% of the time, because it’s very addictive. If it’s not available, they are very happy to do other things that are not quite as intensely entertaining.
Also, as someone who works from home, and with the fact that the gaming equipment is upstairs and my office and the kitchen and other places I spend a lot of time are downstairs, it is very difficult to monitor what is happening, and these kinds of limiting devices make it simpler than having to constantly run up there and check on things. It’s a very practical solution.
Parenting is such an art, with infinite ways of handling things with different kids, different circumstances, etc. I appreciate the comments here.
– Lorie

Lorie Marrero

As I was saying in my very lengthy comment above, no, we no longer use these as the kids have gotten so much older now. We loved using them when they were younger, but now we lean on negotiation and the fact that they are old enough to monitor themselves better. It has definitely made it more difficult not having these tools in place, but we have done that out of respect for their maturity. We DO occasionally catch them up at 4AM playing and have to impose consequences… but it’s better now to work with that situation as the exception. These tools work REALLY well though and I was so glad to have them. – Lorie


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