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The Cyber World: Mother’s Motivational Ally

My friend Terry Matlen runs a website called Moms with ADD. She asked me to write an article that would help her readers effectively navigate the cyber world for their children. Although geared toward ADHDers, this article is useful to all parents.

I am not a mother, but I might as well be. I run study groups out of my home for ADHD kids and I am an adult with ADHD as well. I see 30-40 kids per week; most come over for 3-4 hours at a time. I have five computers available and video game consoles for break time. While these electronic amusements are powerful motivational carrots, they are also ripe ground for abuse.

I assess each child’s homework load upon arrival to my study groups, and, since almost all of them are cyber-oriented, we come up with a reasonable amount of work that must be completed before they can have a game or computer break, which is usually limited to 15-20 minutes. I use game and computer management tools to eliminate the need for monitoring. These tools are quite sophisticated nowadays. When the time’s up, the game shuts down!

Like most ADHDers, I can easily fall into negativity; I take great pains with my ADHD students to make sure that I am not one more hyper-critical and nagging adult in their lives. Computer and game management devices help me a great deal in this pursuit. I recommend that all mothers (and fathers) make use of these tools. I have seen them transform families!

Given the enormous power of the cyber world, I also strongly suggest that mothers with cyber-oriented children come up with a behavioral modification plan. Link “screen time” with other behaviors you’d like to see. You need to come up with a system that links desired outcomes with the privilege of playing video games, or watching TV. You can use a spreadsheet, poster, or simply a piece of paper with desired behaviors on one side and rewards on the other. It is useful to make copies so you can have a new sheet at the beginning of each week. If you’re anything like me, it would also be good to get the support of a friend, preferably one who is high in follow-through. I find that I am great at starting innovative projects, but struggle to keep them going. Find a friend who is willing to check in with you a few times a week to see how things are going. DO NOT TRY TO CREATE CHANGE WITHOUT SUPPORT.

Once you have a support system in place for yourself, the first step is to assess what positive behaviors and outcomes you want to encourage in your child. Here are some examples: raising test scores; turning in assignments on time; taking out the trash without being asked; Doing chores without being asked; 3.0 grade point average at the end of the first quarter; respecting parents (i.e., not talking back); exercising for 30 minutes.

Make your list pretty detailed and offer your child a variety of opportunities to earn screen time, but set a firm daily limit that can not generally be surpassed. Perhaps allow him or her to spend a maximum of one to two hours per day during the week and maybe up to four hours on Saturday and Sunday. Let your child “bank” time, but only let him or her “withdraw” a specified maximum amount of that time per day. If, for example, at the end of one week, your child did not use all the time he or she had earned, that amount of time would carry over to the next week.

Once you have figured out the behaviors you want to encourage and the accompanying rewards, write up the agreement. I recommend making it look “official:”

Three As on Report Card Unlimited screen game time for two weekends.*
A on a Math test 2 hours
Homework done without asking (must be verified) 30 minutes
30 minute bike ride
30 minutes
No missed assignments for the whole week 3 hours
Cleaning bedroom without being asked 45 minutes
Doing chores without being asked
30 minutes
Respectful behavior to Mom 45 minutes
*This reward obviously is an exception to the daily time limit.
Maximum screen time per day: one hour during the week and four hours on the weekend.

This sheet is simply an example, and I encourage you to come up with a system that works for your individual situation. If you stick to the system for 21 days, research suggests that you can make it a habit.

Mindful of the “21-day rule,” I like to use a calendar for things I am trying to change and mark an “X” for each day that passes.  It helps give me a little bit of a payoff. If I did not totally succeed on a particular day, I call my support friend and figure out what went wrong and how to fix it for the following day. I also put in reminders on my cell phone to go off at random times throughout the day, and do the same with my computer. To use Dr. Amen’s term, this helps create an “auxiliary prefrontal cortex,” helping to keep me motivated, even when the novelty wears off. I find ways to keep myself stimulated and engaged. I encourage all you mothers out there to set up multiple supports and reminders. Find a variety of strategies and support mechanisms to keep yourself on task.

The cyber world provides you with powerful motivating potential for your children. Use it wisely and get plenty of support. The cyber world inescapably influences our children. You have the power to make sure that influence is beneficial and positive!

  • Come join me on September 8 at 7PM at Border’s downtown Ann Arbor for a book talk and signing for Cyber Junkie.

2 Responses to “The Cyber World: Mother’s Motivational Ally”

  1. Mary Catherine says:

    I just discovered your site and as a mother of two ADHD boys who just can’t seem to get enough of their video games, this is a god-send. I’ve been trying forever to get them to put the same energy into homework as they do in video games, and this year I’m going to try out your reward agreement idea.

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