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Stanford psychology expert: This is the No. 1 skill parents need to teach their kids—but most don’t

By | Nir Eyal |

As parents, we all want to raise kids who are smart and focused, especially in a world where digital distraction seems to be inescapable. (Even tech titans like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have strategies for limiting their children’s screen time.)

Why? Because in the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: Those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves “indistractable.”

Becoming indistractable is the most important skill for the 21st century — and it’s one that many parents fail to teach their kids. After years of studying the intersection of psychology, technology and how we engage with it, one of the biggest mistakes I see parents making is not empowering their kids with the autonomy to control their own time.

Allowing them to do so is a tremendous gift; even if they fail from time to time, failure is part of the learning process. Parents need to understand that it’s okay to put their kids in charge, because it’s only when they learn to practice monitoring their own behavior that they learn how to manage their own time and attention.

Teach them at a young age

When my daughter was five and already insisting on “iPad time” with unrelenting protests, my wife and I knew we had to act.

After we all calmed down, we did our best to respect her needs in the way Richard Ryan, one of the most cited researchers in the world on the drivers of human behavior, recommends: We explained, as simply as we could, that too much screen time comes at the expense of other things.

As a kindergartner, she was learning to tell time, so we could explain that there was only so much of it for things she enjoyed. Spending too much time with apps and videos meant less time to play with friends at the park, swim at the community pool, or be with Mom and Dad.

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