• Shari Stein

Just Say No

Updated: Apr 30, 2019

It’s quality over quantity; a pause, not a ban.

My parents said no, a lot. I was bold and persistent and fought for my right to have dessert even if I did not finish dinner. And, I would expect them to understand my desperate need for the Gloria Vanderbilt jeans that everyone else had. Occasionally I reacted to their “NO” with sobs or a tantrum, but always understood that I had to accept whatever they decided and apologize if I was disrespectful. They were stubborn, the no never became a maybe or a this time.


Parents and educators ask me for advice on how to deal with teens’ rampant use of digital devices. Questions range from “How do I get my son to stop playing games online?” to “Students in my classes use their phones no matter what the rules are, how do I deal with that?” They explain that they have tried to tell these teens to stop, but the teens do whatever it is anyway. I make this simple suggestion: “Just Say No,” offer a brief explanation and enforce it.


These quandaries stem from basic issues we find with our current GenZ/iGen. Many in this generation are not used to hearing, “No, you can’t.” Yet, basic psychology and parenting advice help us understand how important it is to teach our children the differences between needs and wants and help them develop a set of ethics and values.


Baby Boomers and GenXers have a tough time emulating the examples their parents set since certain “NO’s” were simply easier to enforce back then. The television said no for them. TV shows and movies started and ended without any ability to record and play later. Binge-watching only “burst into mainstream” in 2013. A series played out according to the TV’s schedule, not ours. Sure, some of us would keep the television on no matter what show came on next, but eventually, we got bored. In addition, the “screen” was often in the family or a common room, not in our own rooms or hands.


We need to get back to the basic tenets of parenting. Why are we afraid to enforce the NO? There is a huge range of answers to that question and it might be helpful to be honest about the answers. Do we want more free time for whatever we’re scrolling through or doing? Do we want to avoid communication or confrontation? Are we just overwhelmed or over-tasked?


Honesty works. Just like I have heard my peers use lies like, the playground is closing (when it wasn’t) or you can’t go upstairs because the stairs are broken (when they weren’t), I have heard young parents today lie to their kids about how sorry they are that the wifi service is down. For younger children, I hear parents explain that the iPad broke and has to get fixed or that it is lost.


Children can detect our lies, but do not yet have the awareness for self-discipline or self-control and many will question or rebel against our rules. This is normal and age-appropriate. We would never let children play with dangerous objects or leave them alone at a public playground. The Internet is a public playground and for some, it leads to dangerous activities. We would also not allow our children unlimited access to candy, chips, or cookies. The Internet is not a staple, it is sweet and sticky.


If we are to do our jobs as parents, we must help our children develop the strategies and tools they will use as adults. It is not very complicated. Children need us to explain briefly, create boundaries and then enforce our rules. How else can we help them learn to develop their own guidelines?


To get started (it's never to late to start):


1. Create rules that make sense for your children and yourself. Announce them, keep it clear and simple.


2. Explain your rationale and the consequences, briefly. For example, explain how social media is public, even when they set accounts to be private. Be firm and empathetic.


3. Follow these rules yourself. Be even more stringent with your own habits. Be the role model.


4. Require your children to share their passwords with you, and promise to sign into their accounts only in an emergency or safety concern.


5. Friend and/or follow your children on social media. Don’t stalk, just be a part of their online world.


6. Stick to the rules. Don’t bend just because….


7. Give advance notification just before the digital time ends. For example, give a 5–10 minute or one more game, video, etc. warning IF you can make sure to see this through. We all appreciate a warning and time for closure.


8. Modify the rules when you feel it is appropriate and explain this too, i.e., vacations, age/growth, etc.


9. Discuss your new plan with your friends and relatives. Perhaps you can get them to be on board with their own children. Create a mob effect. At the very least, you might create consistency for visits and playdates or perhaps you will start a trend.

This list is not an all or nothing set of guidelines for you. And, this is not an anti-Internet movement. It’s about quality over quantity. It’s an opportunity to help children see how our time online impacts homework, sleep, relationships, anxiety, etc, Be ready for resistance and tough conversations. Restrictions and change both require time, patience and persistence. See it through.


Let me know what changes you make and how it goes. I look forward to your email!