When a child has time on their hands, they'll often have a screen in their hands. We look at how you can promote good habits, keep usage to fair and reasonable levels, and get other stuff done as a family!
Within many families, there can be different views and difficult conversations about how much screen time is appropriate. It can lead to arguments and a lot of ill-feeling, and so the following tips are about establishing rules and a sustainable way to get - and keep - things under control.
Make the commitment to a family agreement and look to establish some house rules and get them written down. Things to consider include:
As a parent, it’s your role to set boundaries, but also to lead by example. It might not be totally credible if you order your children to switch off their screens if you spend all your own downtime binge-watching Netflix or scrolling on your phone. Or if when you ask them to come to the dinner table without their phones, you bring yours. Use the discussions about screen time to think about how you might also cut back on your screen usage.
Often the chores that children are asked to do get forgotten about, or need infinite reminders. One helpful way to keep screen time down and to get other things done could be to adopt the mantra: 'Clean before Screen' or to assign, say, Saturday morning as chore or homework time. You can even reward your child by 'paying' them for their help in extra screen time. Fifteen minutes spent sweeping leaves could earn them fifteen minutes more screen time.
One way to set the boundaries is to install a parental control app on your child's devices, A good example is Screen Time. It's an award-winning app that includes features such as time limits, sleep and homework 'blocked' periods, bonus-time rewards you can give in return for positive habits and actions, and even 'instant pause' for when you really do want to get their attention.
Time passes quickly when you’re having fun, and there are plenty of children who can spend hours on end messaging each other or playing games all weekend if not actually physically separated from their devices. If you have agreed to a 'hard-stop' - a time at which screens go off without question - you may find it helpful to remind your child when they have thirty minutes left of their agreed screen time. And then remind them again with fifteen minutes to go, and so on. This can help prevent temper tantrums at “off” time.
Talk Things Over
It can be tempting to totally 'pull the plug' on smartphones and tablets. But going 'cold turkey' probably won't be the best solution, even if it was easy to achieve without arguments breaking out. In any case, it could be self-defeating. What happens if your child has to check their homework app, reply to emails from teachers, or genuinely collaborate with classmates in study groups or joint assignments? Maybe your teenager has a job or a volunteer role and they need to be able to send and receive messages or login via an app to accept or reject a shift or opportunity. Instead of simply imposing a solution from above, talk to each other and agree on a plan that balances your concerns against their needs.
A common concern over too much screen time might be your child's performance at school. If their grades aren't as good as they should be, then time spent on digital devices may be the reason, but it can be more complicated than that. Large jumps in screen time can be an indication of 'escaping' or avoiding issues that are bothering your child, and not the cause. It may help to talk to the relevant teachers at your child's school. As well as being able to advise you on academic matters, they'll be able to share other observations around friendships or issues within the school such as bullying.
To avoid screens being the only form of entertainment, try and keep your home full of other things they can have fun with if they try. Books, toys, and gizmos that aren't screen-based, board games and card games, art, and crafting materials. What can they play with, interact with, perhaps make a bit of a mess with? Can they help you with chores around the house, do some baking, or help to prepare a meal?
Think of ways to regularly get out together. It could be a walk or a picnic, sporting activities, a trip to a gallery or a museum, or a meet-up with another family with children the same age. Whatever it is, arranging activities together could turn into a new family tradition, and one that you can all enjoy and look forward to.
Things can get heated when it comes to screen time, so whatever steps you take, be sure to explain the actions you're taking. Your child won't necessarily be happy about it, of course, but it's important that they do understand your concerns and your reasons. You should also allow time and space for them to air any concerns they might have too.
Time spent talking and understanding each other's perspectives can only be a good thing.