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Getting Your Kids Back into School Mode

Win the Electronics War
Tween online too much
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September is the time of year a lot of tweens and teens test out different personalities and try to reinvent themselves online before heading back to class. Educate yourself by exploring your kids' Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr profiles. Their profile picture (Is his shirt off while he's flexing? Is she draped over someone you don't know?) and the shows or books they "like" (Is she really watching Family Guy? Did he honestly love Saw?) reveal a lot about how they want to present themselves to the world and how they may be behaving away from home. The picture has less to do with who they are than with how they want to be perceived—and you might be able to avoid some problems down the line by addressing potential character attributes that you find discomfiting. Tell them you've looked at their picture and ask why they chose it. After you've heard their reasons, explain how it differs from what you expect for members of your family. Of course, talking about it doesn't mean you'll change what they decide to do. But if you really want them to have a sense of your values, these ongoing conversations are necessary.

If arguing over screen time catapults you into a bad mood, you can squash the conflict by creating a contract. I wrote one up after tiring of constantly repeating, "Turn it off right now! We really need to enjoy one another's company!" We had our kids sign the memo of understanding below. Feel free to adapt it to your particular screen time situation.

Gaming Rules for the Wiseman-Edwards Family
The following is understood to be true:

When I play/watch etc., I have no ability to accurately gauge time. Therefore, I won't say, "What?!!! I've only been on for a few minutes!" when a parent tells me my screen time is done.

I won't constantly ask if I can have screen time after my mom or dad has said no.

Nor will I reply with, "Why?"

I won't compare how long I've played with the amount my siblings have played.

I'll track my time with a timer, which I will use honestly. Within 60 seconds of the timer going off, I'll shut down.

When can I play video games?

No video or computer games during the school week.

On the weekend, I'm allowed a total of 90 minutes/day.

Screen time can't interfere with my responsibilities. No matter how early I get up on a weekend morning, the dog must be walked and fed before I turn anything on.

Manners and social skills are important. While it's fine to play a game waiting in line, it's unacceptable to do so at your cousin's wedding reception.

On my honor, I pledge that I won't:

Download any games, music or apps (even if they're free) without my parents' permission. If I do, I understand that I'll be forbidden from screen time for a week without exception and the amount of the charge will be deducted from my savings account or allowance.

Play games or visit websites that my parents forbid.

Allow my friends to go on websites my parents forbid when they're at my house.

These rules may be updated by parental executive decision at any time.

Signed...

Did it solve our problems overnight? No. But it has led to better moods all around and helped me savor more of that new-year adrenaline rush.

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