Kicking the gadget habit

School is where I study and home is where I play. But what if I can’t quit the videos, games, and chats?

Our elder says it’s all about prioritizing if you want to make the grade.

Dear EWC:

I’m an 8th grader in a school that is unique in terms of, how do I say this, the education system or learning curve. It’s a private school for Roman Catholics. I wouldn’t call myself an average student, for I am known for my eccentric, boisterous nature in school and for my mouth that never seems to shut up. But with grades though, I am pretty average. Well, slightly above average, like maybe a few points above the average score, but you get the point. My parents, or more specifically my dad, want me to get good grades and be on the honor roll. I agree with him. I want to be in the honor roll but I don’t think I want it hard enough. He always tells me that I should try to be more responsible and disciplined since I always spend my time on gadgets, playing games, chatting with friends, or watching videos.

Now now, I’m not a lazy slacker. Hear me out. In school, it’s where I study; you know, copying notes, reading books, and listening to the teachers. I understand the teachers well, and I only had a few problems to work on. The topics were a piece of cake—easy to understand since they were all very interesting to me. Now in the house, it’s where I schedule my rest and play time, but my parents assume that I’ve done nothing and they say to study at home. I explained that I studied at school because our teachers told us to relax at home, yet they’d push me to study more. Sure, I have nothing against it, it’s just how I was gonna do it.

All the pressure was putting me in a tight spot, so I resorted to the world of gadgets to help me cope with it. I play games to clear my mind, talk with friends about my problems, and watch videos to cheer me up. The problem was that I did it a little too often. I started playing on my phone and iPad more than working on my projects, which made my parents start to lecture me more, eventually leading to me craving for the touch of my phone on my hands to escape reality. My outputs lacked effort and were submitted late. I was addicted to it like a drug. I couldn’t stop. I mean I wanna use it every now and then because it made me happy, but it was getting in the way of schoolwork. What can I do to discipline myself and make sure I pass projects on time? What can I do to get on the honor roll?

Folk replies:

You are so right—electronic gadgets are like drugs. Because they help us to escape reality, we are all kind of addicted to them. It’s not just you; we all waste way more time playing on them than we should, and as you have already rather ruefully discovered for yourself, this often means letting other, more important stuff slide. There is really only one “cure” that I know of for this addiction and it’s to limit our use of these devices to only a few hours a day and to go on them only after all our other stuff is done.

You sound to me like a very sociable person who enjoys kicking back and having fun. Good for you. There’s nothing at all wrong with this—as long as you also get done what you have to get done. You say you used to do all your studying at school and then just relax when you got home. The trouble with this “system” of yours though is that it never got you on the honor roll. You wanted to be on the honor roll, and your dad for sure wanted you to be, so he strongly, shall we say “encouraged” you to try studying some at home too. But instead of taking his advice, you did the opposite—you started relaxing with your gadgets more.
Spending more time on your iPad and phone though meant you had to neglect other things like your school projects. Not only did you hand these projects in late, but you also didn’t put the kind of effort into them that you know you should have, and the grades you received on them reflected this. You feel bad about this, and you want to do better, but you need advice about how to break your gadget habit and get into the studying habit.

OK, so the first thing you do is to ask your parents for help. If you do this, they will know you are serious about improving your grades and ease up on the pressure a bit. All they want, after all, is for you to take your schoolwork seriously and earn the grades you are capable of. So, if you show them that you want the same thing as they do, they will stop lecturing you about it so much. Tell them what you told me: that you know you spend too much time with your devices and you need their help to spend less. Make a deal with them. Let them know that you will not go on your devices until a certain time (say P.M. on weeknights) or until after you have worked on your schoolwork for a solid, say, two hours. Ask them to help you stick to this plan by holding your devices ransom until you complete your part of the bargain.

If you stick with this plan, trust me—your grades will improve. Judging from the letter you wrote, you are obviously very smart and the only reason your grades are not as good as they could be is that you haven’t put enough effort into them because you’ve been too busy watching YouTube videos and venting to your friends about your problems. You can still do these things, by the way; you just have to learn to do less of them. Once you get into the habit of putting work before pleasure, you will notice something very weird—namely that the less time you spend on your gadgets, the more you enjoy the time you get to spend there. This is because you will have a clear conscience and an unburdened mind knowing your work is done and that playing on them is a reward for your efforts instead of a way of avoiding responsibility. I hope this helps. I am always here if you would like to talk more about this. Please try to write back if you can to let me know how you are doing. I will be rooting for you to make honor roll.

Letter: 450818
Category: School

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