Ask the Experts

Mobile Minecraft Is a Constant Distraction

“How can we effectively limit Minecraft when our 15-year-old son plays it on his cell phone all day? Minecraft interferes with his homework and other activities because it is always there. Any suggestions?”

One of the major dilemmas faced by modern parents is how to manage their kids’ smartphone use so that gaming, texting, and social media don’t interfere with homework, learning, and other responsibilities. Not to mention the easily accessible inappropriate content. Many of our kids have devices in their pockets that out-perform the computers we were using when they were born. And many parents have legitimate concerns that these devices give their kids nearly unlimited access to video games that consume their time and minds.

What can parents do? Before giving your child a smartphone, engage in a very serious conversation about what is appropriate and inappropriate use. This is not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing discussion about understanding the responsibility of owning such a powerful tool. Modeling appropriate use of your smartphone, including the amount of time you are using it and where and when you use it, can be extremely helpful.

Generally, I encourage parents to give teenagers the benefit of the doubt. Give them a chance to demonstrate that they are capable of responsible technology use. If your child demonstrates the opposite, you have a number of options.

1. Exchange your child’s smartphone for a simple cell phone that does not have Internet access or any advanced features.

2. Limit your child’s use of the smartphone. Don’t allow him to bring it to school, and essentially grant him access only when he needs to communicate with you.

3. Use a monitoring service that allows you to track your child’s phone habits. Many of these parental controls let you track how long your child is on the phone, see whom they are calling, and even monitor texts and social media streams. Some of these services even keep records of communications that appear to be temporary such as images and texts sent through services like Snapchat. Check out the tools in this link.

Many mobile carriers including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile have great parental controls. Some block picture messaging, limit what times your child can text or call, filter web browsing, and use GPS to keep track of your child. I recommend that you choose to use them only if your child has violated or trust or used his smartphone inappropriately. Even at that point, I encourage you to inform your child that you’ll be using these monitoring tools, checking what they are doing, and discussing it with them. Unfortunately, some children do need this level of supervision, and without an adult checking on them, they will make poor decisions about the use of digital media.

4. If the main problem is that your child is spending too much time playing Minecraft, I would not recommend starting with these monitoring tools. Instead, return to your discussion about responsible and acceptable smartphone use. Set limits either by owning the smartphone yourself and giving it to the child when needed, or using some of the parental controls to shut off Internet access and advanced services at specified times of the day. Insure that homework is getting done before construction is being completed on Minecraft. Keep in mind that playing Minecraft on the phone with his friends may be a very social activity for your child — not so different than the hours you spent talking with your friends on the phone, but with the added benefit of engaging your child and his friends in a mutual activity that exercises their thinking skills. Click on this link to find many practical suggestions to balance a child’s game play and other activities.