Family, Kids & Relationships

Stanford Psychology Expert Names the Top Skill Parents Should (But Usually Don’t) Teach Kids

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A child’s time management skills and attention span are essential to a successful future, says a Stanford University psychology expert.

It’s a tough skill to teach in a busy world, especially now that screens are everywhere vying for attention. But the goal isn’t for children to be impenetrable to distractions 100 percent of the time. It’s to learn how to monitor their behavior so they can get a better handle on how their time is spent—both now and in the future. Stanford University Graduate School of Business professor Nir Eyal calls this teaching our children to be “indistractable.”

For a child’s time management skills to improve, they need to have a say.

Many parents put a great deal of effort into monitoring their children’s every move. However, empowering children to have a say in how their time is spent is the best way for them to understand how to manage it, says Eyal, who is also the author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. Why? Because it’s only when they have a say that they can begin to comprehend what it means to monitor your own behavior and manage your time, focus, and attention span.

Eyal suggests involving your children in discussions about how their time is spent. As parents, our role is to help them recognize the consequences of their choices. For example, if a child says two hours of screen time is OK, you may explain that it will take away from the time they can spend with their friends, at the playground, or participating in other activities they love. Involving them in the decision-making prompts the thought process that’s essential to making good choices about where to focus their time and attention.

Screen time isn’t all bad—but it’s not all good, either.

Given that screen time is one of the biggest factors vying for our children’s time these days, how much of it should parents feel comfortable allowing their kids? Some experts believe it can impede brain development if you introduce it too soon. Others believe it can actually benefit some children. There’s no single answer for every child, but if you’re concerned you can take this easy quiz to find out if your child may be spending too much time on screens.

For even more guidance, see what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.