September 30th, 2019

7 positive rules for happy family screen times

Do you find you have to text or What’s App or message your child on one or other social media platform in order to get their attention? Even though they may be in the same room as you? Does your child get a rabid look about them if you try to prise the controls to their Xbox out of their hands so that they will go and have a shower? At least every third day? Do you sometimes look up from the TV on Friday Family Fun Night and find every member of the family is on a handheld device as well? Yep, we know, you’re all multi-tasking…Does your teenager not feel any experience is complete without having photographed it and posted it on Instagram? Maybe your child has forgotten what her friends look like without the added whiskers offered by Snapchat filters. Your child may be constantly online chatting with friends… while doing their homework (honest mum!)… but may also be worried about a toxic troll culture in that environment. Do you worry about their communication skills as conversation is reduced to 140 character soundbites? (Apparently now that Twitter allows 280 characters the average length of a tweet is 33 characters. Go figure.) Have you calculated how much time your son has spent watching cat videos on YouTube?

If this is your experience you’re not alone. There has been a marked increase in parental concern about their children’s use of technology and parents are finding it harder than ever to control it. Often suggested solutions are technological ones, and that will be part of it. Parental controls are a good idea and so are controls designed to help us help ourselves like iPhone’s Screen Time. The irony of using a device to help us monitor the use of our devices!

But technological controls will only go so far. There was a piece in the New York Times in the summer about parents hiring coaches to help their families wean themselves off screens.  Whole new businesses have evolved offering prescriptions of a very basic nature such as reading books, going outside to play and getting a pet. Other solutions are more extreme such as technology abstinence pledges.

At The Parent Practice we believe that children need to be educated in screen literacy and digital citizenship at home. I was interviewed by the Evening Standard on this topic last week and gave my top tips for managing screen life at home:

  1. Communication and connection vs coercion and control.
  2. Modelling is 80% of parenting so you need to be demonstrating a healthy balance of activities in your own life. Be honest; do you say you’re listening while scrolling through emails?
  3. Be really clear about your values around the use of technology and use of time for other things. Is it important to you that your children get outdoors; take some exercise; spend time in other creative pursuits (I’m not saying that screen use can’t be creative); read books; spend face to face time with actual people, especially family; do their homework; tidy their room sometimes… No doubt you also have ideas about how you want them to behave online and what sort of sites you’re happy for them to access.
  4. Hold a family meeting (with nice food) where you explain these values to the children and invite them to have input in creating family rules that reflect them. These rules would cover the how, when, where, what and for how long aspects of screen use. Put this in writing and sign the digital contract thus created. (TIP: this should be written in the present tense. Eg we put devices in the drop off zone at mealtimes and one hour before bedtime.) ALL the family need to stick to the rules agreed, including provisions for screen-free time and zones. So a lot of thought needs to go into creating them.
  5. Once the new regime has started descriptively praise everyone (including the adults) for their efforts to stick to it, even the smallest step int eh right direction.
  6. Empathise that change is hard and whenever they would like to be using a screen at a time that is not allowed. Acknowledge that screen use is VERY appealing, even addictive. When the child slips up (or you do) do not criticise or punish but refer to the rules and underlying values and support your child to get it right next time. Do not remove screen time as a punishment or offer it as reward for non-screen related behaviour. Screens are just part of our lives and children need to be educated in their healthy use.
  7. Celebrate the alternatives. Go for walks or bike or scooter rides together. Make mealtime conversations fun (maybe play word games or get some conversation starter cards). Read, cook or get crafty or do a DIY project together. Encourage kids to play. Talk about the kinds of games you played as a child.

Top tip: Do not buy your child their own device until they are of secondary school age. Even if they need to use a device of some kind for school work or you’re happy for them to entertain themselves on screens within limits the device itself should be a family one which the child borrows for limited times and for specific uses.

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Posted in: Managing Screen time , Screens , Setting up for success

 

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