Is it just me or does it seem like children have lost their ability to entertain themselves free from a screen?
You, like me, can probably remember long summer holidays playing made up games outside with friends, riding bikes, playing hopscotch, or building dens in your garden. Now, though, it seems that most kids prefer to lead a totally wired existence, constantly connected to some electronic device.
Things have changed.
Most parents that I work with are fed up battling with their ‘Screenagers’ and trying to balance screen time with other activities. Many parents are exasperated by their child’s constant technology use and the degree to which tablets, TVs, video games, laptops and smart phones have taken over their family life. I once talked to a desperate mother whose teenage son had muscle wastage due to too much gaming!
Like this Mum many parents who I hear from, are fed up arguing and are looking to teach their kids a more responsible way to handle their screen use for themselves so they become self determining and positively autonomous.
I believe this can start early and I also believe you can ‘Talk & Teach’ your child to develop good habits early on.
Here are some simple questions that you can reflect upon that will help you to manage or limit your child’s use of technology that will help empower them to take responsibility for their own balanced use in the long run.
Know Your Goals So You Can Set Rules
Your child’s screen time and use of technology should match up with your goals as a parent.
Get a pen and paper and a cup of coffee to relax & ponder:
- Think of your family as a factory, what kind of product do you want to create? How can you use or limit screen time to create that product? What sort of balanced adult do you want to nurture and shape?
- What types of technology do you want to allow into your home?
- How much time do you think is reasonable for your child to use technology each day?
- Where and when will your child be allowed to use these devices?
- Are certain times of day off limits for technology use?
- What types of content you will allow your child to view or interact with? How will you keep them safe?
Whatever rules you establish, be sure that they are communicated clearly and enforced consistently.
To assess whether your limits are working, ask yourself these questions:
- What will we as parents see, hear and feel if the screen time rules are working?
- What will we do if they are working? How can we praise, and encourage more of this desired behaviour?
- What will we see, hear and feel if the screen time rules are not working?
- What will we do if they are not working?
When deciding how to approach screen time in your home and how to best use it, weigh up and consider these factors.
The maturity level of your child: Before authorising more screen time, consider your child’s maturity level. Ideally, as your child gets older, they will be able to have more and more autonomy to self-manage. However, this is not always the case. If your child is very immature, irresponsible, or struggles with self-discipline, more limits might be appropriate. The bottom line is that you know your child better than anyone and what they are capable of handling. Gradually and incrementally add more freedom as your child becomes better able to self-manage.
Pre-plan how you will transition off the screen, rather than just saying “turn it off.”
Children often need help transitioning from one activity to the next. Kids who are hungry, tired, stressed, or emotionally drained will have a particularly difficult time with transitions. Screens elicit dopamine (the same neurotransmitter associated with addiction) production in the brain. Your child may not be just wilfully rude to you when you turn off the screen – there’s a set of chemical reactions happening in their brain! Think about an activity that helps your children tolerate the “let down” feeling when they have to stop and ‘talk and teach’ them how to help themselves with feelings of disappointment, anger, and loss when something enjoyable is taken away.
The best way to help transition is to suggest a relationally fun ING activity, like playing with their toys, cooking, colouring or playing outside. When your child feels connected through eye contact, touch & fun they get a neurochemical boost that helps them cope.