Man vs. Machine

Man vs. Machine

Q: I feel like electronics are ruining my life. Every time I turn around my kids are on their tablets, playing video games, watching videos, and texting their friends. Even my husband can’t seem to get enough screen time. Whenever I try to set limits on screen time my kids throw fits, complaining and moping around like the world is coming to an end. These electronics have been the cause of countless arguments in our home. I need my family back, what do I do? Please help!

She: I think it is more the norm these days to struggle with a balance…. I myself have had a new year’s resolution for the last two years to read for one hour before bed instead of watching TV or surfing the net. Alas, the same book has been on my nightstand since summer… but 2016 is right around the corner! I have a deep love for traveling, mostly in third world countries. There are many things I love about traveling, not the least of which is that it helps to reset my baseline for stimulation. Because I don’t usually have free access to the Internet, I read more; I wait in a line without distracting myself with my phone; I make conversation with people I don’t know; I sometimes just sit and take in my surroundings. Essentially, I live My life, in real time.

I will also take this opportunity to comment on my struggle with other people’s use of electronics (please excuse the rant). I become somewhat sad and irritated when I see a table of people, out to eat, with their faces in their phones. I am dismayed at people who post every breath they take on Facebook, and then count their worth in ‘likes’. I cannot tell you the number of times I have processed with young couples how to work through a husband’s total obsession with video games. Although, I will be the first to say that I love modernization (Amazon Prime, Uber, Netfix), but I hate how out of balance we seem to have come.

To answer your question, it is entirely up to you to establish what appropriate screen time is for your house and to be scheduled and consistent with it. Your kids need you to set limits for them. They do not yet possess full functioning of their frontal lobes (whose function involves the ability to determine future consequences and make good choices) and do not have the full ability to make good decisions about what is best for them. They are essentially little Hedonists and will go with what feels good, or is exciting, EVERY TIME. That they are essentially tantruming when you set limits makes me believe that you are inconsistent with your schedule, or they are unclear what they need to do to earn the time on the electronics. Additionally, all parents should be aware of their child’s brain development and the importance of having a range of creative activities to foster a healthy brain. They should also be aware of the importance of social interaction and exercise on the brain (both things that electronics do not offer).

As for your husband, that is a separate question entirely. I only hope that you can come together as a family and come up with a schedule for quality time, non-preferred activities (i.e. homework, chores), electronic-free play, and earned screen time. Your husband is half of the leadership of this team and must be on board with implementing a schedule and being a good role model for your kids. You can always advise him that he will lose his screen time if he refuses to comply.


Looking at this problem, I would start from the point of a little self-reflection. It’s easy to look down your nose at other people’s obsession with their cell phones and tablets and not notice your own habits. I think that all of us, but particularly those of us who grew up without these devices, like to think of ourselves as having a puritanical, enjoying-the-moment, approach to life, but would be horrified if we were able to see an accurate record of how much time per day we spend staring into a little, glowing box. The information age is here, and this is the result.

That being said, you should be a bit concerned-particularly with the kids. I’m not sure that we, evolutionarily speaking, are ready for such a dramatic impact from the amount of electronic stimulation our brains are getting. Our stimulation and pleasure centers are being overloaded. I know it seems nostalgic, but think about the low level of stimulation that was available to kids even a couple of generations ago. When I was kid, I could occupy myself for hours with a cardboard box, a stick and some string. Maybe that was just a function of a dull intellect, but it seemed like the norm at the time. Give a contemporary 8 year-old nothing but a box, a stick and some string, and they will probably stab themselves with the stick after 10 minutes to alleviate the boredom.

Since electronic devices are not going anywhere, you have to look at your family’s issue as a problem of expectations, and not a problem of electronics. Like everything fun in life, it’s always a good idea to stop that fun behavior for a time-period, and as Jen suggested above, reset. Since it would be fairly impractical to stop using electronics for any real length of time, it seems sufficient to have times in the day that are designated device-free. Dinner and family-time seem like a logical start. Bedtime, movie-watching, outdoor activities, and some weekend trips are other potential extensions to this reset time. You are in charge. You pay for these devices, and you can take them away if they are used during these well-defined, reset times. Be reasonable and predictable. You don’t have to demonize the device- that will only create a dynamic that may be counterproductive. This may take a little time and will certainly cause some friction at first, but don’t give up- it will become an unspoken expectation soon enough.


Dr. Jen Semmes and Andy Wilson have been (mostly) happily married for ten years (currently happily). They are the owners of Coastal Counseling therapy center in Carlsbad, California. Jen holds a license in clinical social work and a doctorate in psychology, and is a therapist at Coastal Counseling. Andy just tries to hold it together.

If you, or anyone you know, has a question for ‘He said, She said’ please send a private message to Coastal Counseling on Facebook or email the question to Check us out on the Internet at


Disclaimer: This blog and the information herein are for educational and informational purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional psychological or therapeutic services.  The self-help information provided by this blog are solely the opinion of the bloggers and should not be considered as a form of therapy, advice, direction, diagnosis, or treatment of any kind. Instead, the information is designed to be used in conjunction with ongoing treatment provided by a mental health professional. Use the information in this blog at your own risk. All of the information is provided “as-is,” with no warranties of any kind, express or implied.


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