Using your mobile phone as a ‘shut up’ toy? Try this instead

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Cyber Safety for Kids and Families with Joanna and Jodie on 103.9FM The Fish Family Morning Show

Our children are very eager to become “somebody” on-line, to join the social networks of their peers. (Photo: US Army via Flickr)

Our children are very eager to become “somebody” on-line, to join the social networks of their peers. (Photo: US Army via Flickr)

It is very tempting to hand over the smart phone to an impatient child while doing errands or trying to get some work done at home. It is instant gratification for the child, and more importantly, for the parent. And this instant gratification will more than likely inspire anxiety for both of you if it is not checked, because the lesson your child learns is that acting out becomes a strategy to be soothed, or fulfilled, by the device. And what is not learned through real experiences is the ability to self-sooth and exercise patience that comes from a disciplined mind.

Now let us fast forward to the tween and teen years. If your teen has not learned how to manage the intensity of emotion as a small child, they will have a more difficult time making adjustments to the things that disturb the peace as they move into adolescence and adulthood, especially the bullying and exploitation in the social network. There is a discipline of the mind that develops when parents expect and support their children to learn how to be self-governing, and less dependent upon getting their own way when people and circumstances make them  feel uneasy, threatened or disappoint.

Considerations for using smart devices as a ‘shut up’ toy

Love interrupted for pre-school brains. We know that during early childhood years the brain is developing capacity to bond as a human in social relationships, starting with family and care givers. The bonding that happens at a neurological level through the production of oxytocin, a bonding hormone which fosters a sense of connectedness to another caring human being, requires human-to-human contact. There is no doubt that devices at an early age can interfere with the process of strengthening the parent-child bond, and potentially the child’s ability to relate to others in a trustworthy way.

Self-governance thwarted. Over dependence upon devices to be fulfilled and quell emotion, hinders the ability to self sooth (emotional regulation).This is a critical life skill in a cyber-power world that spews a steady stream of pressure to be always available to the social network, believe things that are not true, and focus on things that don’t really matter. And by the same token, the device triggers a neurological reaction in the brain, stimulating the reward hormones, dopamine and opioids, which can then hardwire the brain for addiction to the device.

Anti-social mindset. Growing up with the device as your primary interface can lead to unrealistic expectations that the world will conform to your own will and desires, with little regard for the welfare of others. The cyber-social realm conditions us for personalization and customization, and commercial entities pursue individuals as consumers with the message: “let me make you happy.” The reality is that our happiness comes from within when we are reaching out to be in service to others in the form of friendship and volunteering and also in gainful employment. And so consider that when your child grows up feeling more comfortable with the screen at home than in your company, this also impacts their ability to engage and maintain stable, healthy relationships essential to lead an abundant life no matter what kind of formal education or training they receive.

Strategies for dealing with an inconsolable and demanding child

Set your young child up for success. While we do not have control over our child’s emotions and choices, we do have control over how we govern the home and structure the day. Especially with young children this is an important part of exercising your authority to provide protective cover for your child’s development into a confident person with self-control. So consider the following things you do have control over. Schedule errands where you have to bring your child after naps and meals. Expecting your young child to be patient when they are hungry and tired is not a reasonable thing to do.

Take a “time-out” with your child. When you have an irritable child that does not want to be consoled, then leave. Leave the restaurant, leave the grocery store, leave the event. And do it with a heart and peace, not an angry heart. The lesson you want to teach your child is that this behavior will not be rewarded, and that they are loved even when they are angry or hostile. You will not abandon her. You can simply be present in the ugly moments. Over time, as this behavior gets your child whisked away to sit in the car or sit in a room so you both can become calm and if he is old enough, have a conversation about how to manage his feelings for the future. If the pattern does not break after a few times, then you might want to consult professional advice. At the root of disruptive conduct is suffering. There is something, a thought or a belief that is disturbing the peace in your child. Our children no matter how angry or upset can be in charge of emotion in their life by recognizing that the feelings are real, but they are not the facts. The sooner you are able to help your child tame emotion and assume self-control the better.

Related: Cyber-safe tips for choosing children’s apps

Tips to introduce use of the smart device in a healthy way

Establish a clear path for age-appropriate use of mobile devices through cyber rites of passage. These are thresholds of maturity, clearly delineated so that the message to your child is not “NO” it is simply when and how. So if you are sincerely expecting that your child will learn how to be a cyber-safe citizen and you have a established a clear path for maturity, much like preparing a child to learn how to drive a car, then chances are greater that there will be better communication about using the devices in a way that serves your child’s best interest.

For tiny tots – two years and under. Keep in mind at all times that the younger the child, the more they require real face time in the flesh. Hold off as long as possible on giving the child access to the device because it will capture their imagination like nothing else. Keep with you alternative items to distract your child from a simple squeeze toy or stuffed animal, or even one of those plastic books that can withstand being shoved into a travel bag and handled by young, sticky hands.

Use of screens in all media, and especially the device, can be regulated such that your child learns that the best way to be in charge of yourself is to decide when the device will be used and when to retire it.  Make time to read to your young child, which is a very powerful way to strengthen bonding.

Three to five years old. From three to five years of age, the device should be strict used with supervision. The child should not be left alone with the device and passwords are not granted. Applications or games that are permitted for this age to use should be logged into the “family approved” app list. As a rule, do not leave your child alone with the device.

Six to ten years old. Children aged six to ten years of age are issued devices much like checking out a library book. They are issued the device (iPad, Kindle, Notebook, video game) for a designated timeframe, and then returned. There is general oversight. The Rangers should not be left completely alone with the devices. There should be a responsible older user conducting random checks on the applications being used and what is happening on and off line.

To read about all the rites of passage to prepare your child for the social network age infant to 16, download free ebook Cyber Rites of Passage.

To learn more about creating a family culture characterized by open communication and individual resilience, go to: Fresh Start.



Jodie Stevens, Hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM, with her cyber mom, Joanna Jullien. They talk cyber safety on Tuesday mornings.

Jodie Stevens, Hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM, with her cyber mom, Joanna Jullien. They talk cyber safety on Tuesday mornings.

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.

Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and spiritual resilience. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna ( and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.