Who is teaching your kid to break technology rules?

Victoria S.
April 18, 2019

girl sits with her brother on the couch. She ignores her parents, who observe her behavior.

How would you feel if someone told your kid they could do something that explicitly goes against the rules you created to keep them safe? You might feel hurt, angry, or annoyed. And your child might feel confused. Who should they believe? Who should they listen to?

When kids receive contradicting messages about what is and isn’t ok, your parental authority is undermined, making it more difficult for you to enforce rules at home. And for parents of Gen Alpha kids, it’s extremely common for other adults to have strong opinions about kids using technology (like screen time and what types of media your child consumes.) It’s already a touchy subject for parents—and it’s borderline addictive for kids born in the smartphone era. Compared to curbing screen time after it’s already out of control, enforcing bedtime seems easy.

So if someone in your life has told your child that they don’t have to play by your rules, what do you do? When faced with a situation like this, your response has to change depending on who is undermining your authority as your kid’s primary caregiver, rule-maker, and guardian. Here are the top tips from the Relay team.

Where do mixed messages come from?

Your kid can pick up on the differences between your rules and someone else’s from many different places. Here are some of the most common:

  • From your kids’ friends’ parents
  • From your co-parent or partner
  • From your parents, siblings, or in-laws

How to stop the contradictions and stick to the family rules

When faced with a case of undermining, your best weapon is a simple conversation. In many cases, the person teaching your kid things you don’t like has little to no idea that your rules are so different from theirs. And while there are some cases where a person might be deliberately undermining your parenting, talking it out is usually the best path towards compromise and repairing parent and child bond.

Family rules in other people’s homes

We all had that friend growing up. We loved to go to their house to play, in part because they got to eat that sugary cereal we weren’t allowed to have at home. Their parents let us watch PG-13 movies and we could stay up real late at sleepovers. And we knew that if our parents found out, they would not be happy at all.

House rules are different for every family, and we can’t assume our kids’ friends live by the same rules our kids do, especially when it comes to technology. Here are a few things that you can look for to tell if your child has been breaking technology rules at friends’ houses.

  • They are suddenly a big fan of a TV show, video game, or other digital media product that you have never seen or approved
  • They start asking for more screen time, arguing that their friend gets more than they do
  • They become increasingly irritable or upset when screen time is over
  • Their vocabulary starts to expand to include rude words you didn’t teach them
  • You find out about a secret social media account

If you think that your child’s bad behavior is caused by too much screen time or over-exposure to mature content at a friend’s house, there are a couple ways to approach a solution. First, you could simply have a conversation with the parent in question—not an accusatory conversation and not an argument. Just a friendly conversation about TV, internet, and app use at home.

Inform and observe

Find out what their family rules are and share your own. Usually, a parent will be more than happy to respect your wishes and respect your rules while your child is a guest in their home. How much you are willing to bend your rules out of respect to the other parent is up to you.

If you’ve already had that conversation and your rules are still undermined, make sure the playdates start happening at your house, not theirs. You can’t force someone to adopt your rules, especially not in their own home. The only certain solution is to stop sending your child there.

Different rules with a partner or co-parent

Maybe you have an authoritative parenting style and your partner or co-parent is a bit more permissive. Usually, that’s great. Many parents have different parenting styles and work together wonderfully. With the right communication, multiple different views in a household can help to create a cohesive and balanced set of rules at home, even if you are living separately.

But issues can and will arise when one parent starts undermining the others’ rules. Here are some examples of what that can look like:

  • They don’t enforce technology rules when you aren’t around
  • They reduce or negate consequences you set for rule-breaking
  • They disagree with or negate your rules in front of your child
  • They don’t set an example by following the rules themselves
  • They frequently “pass the buck” to you to avoid being the bad guy

All of these behaviors tell your child the same thing: as long as they appeal to the other parent, your rules don’t apply. This can lead to situations where your child acts different with one parent or cause your child to develop a habit of manipulating you against each other. Not an environment you want to live in.

Putting a stop to undermining behavior from a partner is both the simplest and most difficult situation on this list. On the positive side, you can usually feel safe bringing up the topic directly with little to no beating around the bush. On the other side, your partner’s reasoning for their actions could be coming from many different places. And as well, as an equal parent, their parenting concerns and wishes are just as valid as yours.

Educate and compromise

When you are working with your child’s other parent, the best way to proceed is to educate and compromise. This means explaining exactly why you feel your rules are necessary, and supporting with facts, like the screen time age recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also means listening to your partner’s reasoning for the way they feel.

Maybe your opinions are more similar than you think. When all is said and done, you might have to bend your rules a bit to get your partner or co-parent on board. And that’s ok. Every family is different, and rules work better with both parents on board, even if they’re a little bit more strict or relaxed than you’d prefer.

“Spoiled” by a family member

It’s not uncommon for a family member to have a more permissive or authoritarian parenting style than you or your partner/co-parent. In most cases, it isn’t a problem if the person respects your parental authority. As with the other cases here, the issue isn’t so much different ideology as it is a lack of respect. If a grandparent, aunt, or uncle does the following, you might have to step in:

  • Openly undermines your technology rules despite knowing about them
  • Disagrees with or questions your rules in front of your child
  • Tries to help your child sneak more tech time without your knowledge

A family member, while not your child’s primary guardian, is an authority figure and usually one that a child respects and looks up to. Being undermined by a family member can cause kids to act out, using the family member’s opposing viewpoint on technology as an excuse.

This kind of behavior can stir up family drama. Often, things can be settled with a simple conversation, but all families are different. Make sure you have support from your partner or co-parent while setting things right—it’s always good to have someone in your corner.

Explain and enforce

Depending on your current relationship with family, you might go about fixing this issue in a few different ways. First, you can make sure that the family member is aware of your rules. If they weren’t aware or had forgotten, remind them. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

If that doesn’t work, simply lay down the law. You are the parent and they are not. Let them know it is inappropriate to contradict your rules, especially in front of your kid. You can explain that it has a negative effect on your child, even if the family member believes what they’re doing is kind or nice.

pinterest image, little girl sullenly ignores her parents. Image text: Who is teaching your kid to break the rules? ...and how do you stop them?

The bottom line: this is for your child

It’s not about rules for the sake of rules. Eliminating contradictions, undermining, and mixed messages helps kids grow up less stressed and in a technologically healthy way. In the end, hearing different rules from different authority figures confuses kids and can cause defiant behavior.

Inevitably, the parent with the rules almost always ends up as the “bad guy.” That’s not fair, and it’s not ideal for kids to harbor resentment towards the people trying to keep them healthy and safe—even less ideal for adults in your life to cultivate that behavior. Timely communication is the best way to make sure all the authority figures in your child’s life are on the same page. Good luck! 

Want more insight into Gen Alpha parenting? Find more posts here.

Start the discussion at our Community forums