Family Time Without Screens
There is no real set recommended time limits for length of screen time for children. Some studies have shown that children under two shouldn’t have any screen time, and some other studies have recommended only 2 hours a day for younger children. But with screens infiltrating our houses beyond T.V it is really difficult to get away from them. Reading a book used to be suggested as an alternative to T.V, but now some kids are reading books on screens!
There is no one easy solution to moderating screen time. The aim of the game is to have your children to start self moderating their own screen time when they are in high school. They need to be able to switch off to do other things by themselves. If your child’s screen time is preventing them from having social face to face time, completing their homework, participating in sport and family activities you might have a problem. And the more children rely on their parents to tell them to switch off, the longer it will take for them to learn to self moderate. Children that have reactive parents rather than a routine and plan for screen time limits, will simply continue to rely on parents to remind them (or shout at them) to switch off every time.
Excessive screen time can have a dangerous payoff for many families, everyone is quiet if they are all on screens, and no one is fighting or getting under your feet. Be careful your family doesn’t get lulled into this seductive scenario. Conflict in families whilst uncomfortable, is necessary to learn compromise and resilience.
Digital Parenting Is NOT Different!
Many families don’t seem to treat screen time issues the same as they do other boundary issues in families. Some families have one approach to digital parenting, and an entirely different approach to other family boundaries. Families need to set boundaries around screen time the same as they do with any other issues.
The biggest problem with digital parenting is that this generation of parents are often struggling to understand the digital technology their children are using, and are trying to work out how to limit its use in a reasonable practical way. With education comes power. Make sure you are really up to date with how your children are using apps and the internet. When you know how the technology works, if certain apps are suitable, how to use the technology to help you moderate and restrict, then you can make educated, informed decisions for your child.
Understanding Parental Controls And The Technology
If you understand how the technology works, it is much easier to moderate and restrict. You can set digital restrictions around apps and screen time and also decide where the device can be used and when. Using the technology to help you moderate and set boundaries is very helpful. Seek advice on how to do that, (attending one of my talks or purchasing my cyber safety manual will help). Simply taking the device away over and over, can lose impact if that is all you can resort to. Communicate with your children to find out what they like and what their are playing or using.
Digital Technology Is Here To Stay!
Kids use tech differently to most adults, they can actually do some amazing multi tasking, but at times they need to focus on what they are doing away from texts and messaging. You might have to create separate logins on their computer to help them focus. You might have to get them to hand a phone over during homework time if they are distracted.
If your child is managing to live a healthy life, maintain friendships, spend time in the fresh air and keep up with school work, don’t worry if it seems they are always on their device, it’s a different world, just look at the adults around you! We just can’t compare our childhood with our children’s it’s such a different environment now.
Be clear on what your issue is.
Is your problem a serious addiction, or a habit, or is it more that you just can’t get “Through” to your child or work out how to set boundaries around these devices? True addiction to screen time may be an indication of a more serious underlying issue. See more about that below.
It’s more often that parents bewilderment with how kids use digital devices and inability to moderate them is often the real issue. If it’s simply that your children are getting around your boundaries and basically ignoring you, it could be because they don’t have a strong enough incentive to follow your limits.
Let’s Unpack This
- Do you know what your child is doing on their device?
- Do you know how safe the apps are that your child is using?
- Are you being inconsistent with your boundaries?
- Do you give in?
- Do you swing between harsh punishment and throwing your hands up and giving up.
- Are you and your partner both on the same page as to how you approach this issue with your child?
Being consistent and united in your approach is absolutely vital. If your child is confused about what the rules are, and what the consequences are for breaking them, they won’t learn what they can and cannot do. They will often then push those boundaries to see if they get the “I give in approach” that day, or the “That’s It I’m Throwing It Out” approach.
Stop Talking And Act!
Many parents think that “reasoning” with their child, (over and over) or getting an expert to speak to their child, should be enough to convince the child that they are spending too much time on screens. It’s very important that you do have conversations around the health issues of too much screen time, but when all is said and done, you may have to stop the reasoning the begging the shouting and the threats, and simply set your rules and consequences for breaking them, in a planned and methodical way. Ultimately, you can pull rank, you are the parent, the provider and you have to be the boss. (Stop rolling your eyes!)
When To Seek Professional Help
Excessive screen time addiction can be a sign that something is very wrong with your child’s well being. Spending all day and night in a dark room with only the light of an LCD screen can be a perfect hiding place for a teen who is being bullied at school, or is struggling to deal with adolescent issues, or family dynamics. If you are finding that screen time is becoming a huge issue for your family, don’t put off seeking professional advice.
I Can’t Keep Up!
Screen time limits shouldn’t be about trying to constantly outsmart your kids, it’s about teaching your children to take responsibility for their own devices and screen time so that they have a balanced successful life. Sure parents do need to learn how this technology works to a degree, in the same way that you need to understand all sorts of other things that your children like to do. Avoiding education around digital technology and hoping for the best, is a recipe for disaster and many kids rely on the fact that their parents are ignorant about apps and digital devices, to get away with doing things they really shouldn’t be doing. It will take time and children need a lot of guidance to learn how to organise their time, and learn discipline to switch off when needed. Be prepared for lots of whining, begging, pleading, shouting, schmoozing and bamboozeling! Yup just like a toddler….all over again!
Families Need To Work Together On This!
Family time without screens is so important. Too much screen time, can mean that we aren’t really talking to each other or spending time in a productive way.
- Make some agreements around not having phones/iPods at the dinner table. (Have some dinners together face to face!)
- Set times for screen time and times for switching it off, for the whole family.
- Help your children find other things they like to do that don’t rely on a screen.
- Suggest a screen diet? The whole family give up screens for a weekend to see what happens?
Sometimes families need to go without digital devices to see what else we might like to do?
How To Balance It All
Screen time is all about balance. It can be more about what is being done on the screen than the amount of time sometimes.
- Is it an educational game, or a strategy game?
- Are they using their computer to create something?
- Who are they talking to?
Keep an eye on what they are actually using their devices for, and learn about other things they can do on their devices and or P.C that are creative.
- Creating movies, or stop motion animation
- Drawing with a drawing tablet or drawing program on a tablet.
- Reading or working on photos creatively.
- Writing a story or creating a comic.
- Learning to code, or creating an app or a game.
- Building a blog
- Collaborating with others on a project
There are so many amazing creative pursuits you can do on a computer besides just homework, checking social media and watching YouTube!
Set A Digital Time Table
Sit with your child and explain that they need to start to get things in order so that they can have time to do all things they need to do. Wouldn’t it be nicer to not have mum or dad yelling at them to get off their device all the time?
Set a limit on social media time, gaming and watching YouTube for every afternoon after school. Half and hour to an hour is reasonable. Stick to it. If they want to go over the time, it will come off their next allotted time. And then write it down. You will only have to do this for a short time, until they get the message that you are serious.
Set times for free screen time for weekends. It’s easier to set times to a routine for example from 7am – 10am rather than set an overall time for the day, which can be split up and hard to track. Again, if the kids want to go over the limit simply tell them that it will be deducted from their next screen time allotment, it will only take a few goes at this before they realize that they have consequences for not sticking with agreed times.
Stay The Course!
You may face all sorts of resistance to these changes, particularly if you have never attempted them before, or you have given in previously. Stay the course. If things ever accelerate to tantrums and threats treat them just as you do normally for outbursts of this kind…think back to when they were 3 years old…time out? Beware the threats of rebellion, the “You’re the strictest parents ever” routine, and the sneaky under the covers routine. If you catch them out…that’s time off their digital allotment, or a confiscate the device every night over a few days.
Removing the digital device for a short time can help, but don’t go overboard and ban everything for ever. Remember… small consequences, or you’d have no where to go if you need to up the ante. If you need more ideas on what you can do when things go wrong, write a (secret) list of privileges that you can take away from your child without impacting you too much.
If your child protests that “all their friends are allowed to use screens as much as they want”, ask for names and phone numbers and offer to do a survey…..kids usually back down at this point.
My Manual “Keeping Kids Safe Online” has an example of a digital timetable get them to help you set it, and sign it!
Track Family Screen Time
Keep a diary for a week of the family screen time usage, including your own. It’s interesting to find out the real truth. Set a weekly limit for every member of the family if needed. Get the kids to help you switch off! If the kids feel everyone is on board it might help. Remember though, you are the parent, and you don’t have to stick to kids’ rules. One rule for kids and one rule for parents if you want. Age does have its privileges.
Rewards Are Better Than Punishments
Give rewards for times adhered to, and good behavior on devices. The rewards could be an iTunes gift card, or work towards something bigger with points. A new iPod case, or upgraded device. Use a chart with points given for every day the time table is stuck with. A star chart for younger kids works really well.
Be creative, what reward can you provide that doesn’t involve a screen! A day out, an activity your child will love.
It Does Get Better!
If you are consistent, level headed, united and fair and plan this strategy well, eventually your kids will get into a routine where occasionally they might try to negotiate with you for more screen time, (up to you if you comply, but beware the slippery slope!) but in general they will know the rules, as they do for every other aspect of their lives, and they (and you) will enjoy less drama in the house over their device use.
Ask Yourself These Questions
- How much screen time does your family use?
- How do you connect with your kids away from devices and screens?
- How does your family start conversations where the kids can contribute and let you in to their world a little bit?
Have some ideas? Please share them below in the comments!