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Our daughter is in class X and board exams are looming ahead. She agrees with us that she needs to spend less time on her smartphone. So we gave her a simple phone for receiving calls and messaging only. However, now she finds that without WhatsApp she misses out on notes and information sent by tuition teachers. Coordinating with school teachers about extra-curricular activities seems to be impossible without being part of social media “groups". She is feeling excluded and in a vacuum. She now wants her smartphone back. We as parents are grappling with this issue. Any suggestions?

Quite a few youngsters who are preparing for important exams, like your daughter, do understand that they need to maintain a solid study routine. They agree that the smartphone with its constant, beeps, hoots, bells and whistles, is a disturbance and a distraction.

And yet, the need to stay connected for the reasons that you outline—updates on tutorials, classes or other school activities, and even the occasional exchange of jokes, etc—is a real need. The feeling of being left out is understandable, but maybe it would help to make a distinction between being included in general chit-chat and real fun.

Parent strategies during this time range from letting the youngster self-regulate completely (which takes strong will power from the parents’ side to not intervene at all), to the other end of the spectrum, which is confiscating the phone. It’s best to come up with some mutually agreed upon “phone protocol" during this period. Finally what suits you and your child will depend on your specific relationship with him or her, and how amenable both are to working out some kind of solution.

Some families agree to keep the smartphone somewhere away from the youngster’s close personal space (pocket, handbag, desk) and in a more “public" space, say the dining table, so that this keeps them from reaching out for it every time it beeps. You could then have them check it just a couple of times in the day. Tuition schedules and other important information is something that may not be updated all the time, so it’s okay to not have constant contact.

Sometimes, a child and his or her close friends and groups agree to not send each other casual fun stuff, or send it once a day. This reduces the distractions that go around during serious studying days.

Some parents, with their child’s permission, keep the phone in their custody, and put it on silent, so that the beeps and other alerts are not constantly registering in the mind of the youngster. Some young people even agree to have the parents check the phone for important messages. They inform their friends that it is mainly their parents looking at the phone, which automatically reduces the passing around of personal messages, pictures, jokes, music, and other casual entertainment. The child herself only takes the phone for an hour and replies to the communications she wants to.

Children, in this way, could be led to make the distinction between using their smartphone for relevant information versus idle gossip and “time-pass".

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting (Random House), and ABCs Of Parenting.

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