Half term is coming up and we all look forward to a brief respite from the school, routine. However the first flush of enthusiasm can quickly die away with the realisation that our children may be spending too long on screens and we are using them as a babysitter.
You may be wondering:
“How much screen time should my children be having?” and
“How do I control my children’s screen usage?”
Managing screens is not about coercion and control as that can only lead to long term problems. The answer lies in connection and communication.
If you think about keeping your kids safe around a swimming pool we can protect them from falling in by putting up fences and setting alarms and using padlocks and banning them from going near, but the most important thing to do is TO TEACH THEM HOW TO SWIM.
The same is true for screen safety. The more we nag and shout and blame and criticise and forbid and take away and threaten, the more children will push back and try and regain control. It may work to get them off the gadget in the moment but does nothing to help them long term to enable them to exercise self-control around screens. Children do need limits and boundaries and they are not YET able to set these from themselves so we need to do it for them. The trick is to set ones that will work, that we feel comfortable and competent to implement. We also need to remember that our role is to teach self-control.
Rules for the Digital Jungle:
- THINK. Begin with the end in mind. What is the ultimate destination? To encourage children to feel in charge of technology and use it responsibly, as opposed to technology being in charge of them.
- DECIDE. You need to decide WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO AND HOW MUCH.
- How much time? We know that when parents set limits on media consumption, children consume less media than those who have no limits. The consensus amongst professionals is no screens before age of 2 years and no more than1 hour per day for under 8’s. But it’s also about what else you need to do first? Eat, sleep, play or practice?
- When can they play or surf or game? This depends on your family schedule but not during the hour before bedtime as screen-usage interferes with sleep.
- What sites/ apps? Watch out for the parental guidance certificates and if you are not ready for your child to smoke or drink or drive why would we think they are ready to use Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto which are rated 18?
- Where? Do keep internet enabled devices in a common place where you can monitor them. And have a DROP ZONE where the devices can stay and recharge when they are not being used.
- Include the children rather than imposing the rules from on high! Including them shows you are interested in their views; it is respectful to seek their opinion. It works best with children over 8 if you outline what you need and acknowledge what they would like at the outset. Then ask how you can accommodate both sets of needs. They will probably have some good ideas. They may not like all the rules –empathise with that and reiterate why you need to have them.
- WRITE IT DOWN.I guarantee you will forget the rules and by writing them down it depersonalises them. Then you have a contract, with both sides needing to respect and abide by it.
- KEEP IT POSITIVE. Don’t have negative rules such as “no mobiles upstairs” or “no gaming after 7pm” but rather “mobiles are used downstairs” and “ you can game after homework and before 7pm.”
- FOLLOW THROUGH. Often we start by thinking of what we should do when they mess up! But really we should be deciding what to do when they get it right. Adults rarely notice when children get it right. Do comment when they follow the screen rules. The positive consequence of following the rules is earning the right to use screens again.
If they do break the rules we usually take the gadget away and punish them for getting it wrong. This sort of works in the moment, BUT they are may be defiant and FURIOUS with us. A better approach is:
“The rule is that you play on your ipad after kumon and the positive consequence is that you get to play the next day. (Or better still ask them what the rule and reward is.) As your kumon sheet is untouched and you’re on the ipad, remind me what is the consequence?"
“I don’t get the ipad the next day!”
Exactly! And when they lose access they may feel guilty and angry… and that’s ok. Our job as parents is allow them to feel that disappointment and anger, empathise but not back down.