As the holidays approach, the role that screens and devices will play becomes an increasing concern for parents. Days when children are usually tied up with school and activities make way for many an idle hour and, as such, parents fear those hours will be spent largely engaged with a screen or gaming console. While there is certainly no harm in some well-balanced screen time and developmentally appropriate online activities, we must remember that, as parents, we have an important role in helping our children manage and balance that screen time. Here are a few things we can do:
Understand the battle
It is important parents know the beast they are dealing with. It is easy to shout from another room to get off a screen or whinge to our friends that ‘kids of today’ are all addicted to their phones, but we need to recognise the pull that many of these devices have. The social networks are designed to keep us liking, commenting and sharing. The games cajole us into having ‘just one more’ turn at being the last man standing. These technologies tempt us to reach just one more level, or to scroll for just a few minutes more. Our brains experience a dopamine release and a sense of insufficiency when we use a device. There is always something else to do or something else to scroll through, or one more YouTube video to watch. So our children are up against it when trying to control their time on a device. We need to help them with that.
We can complain that children never go outside and play anymore, but sometimes we have to physically get out there with them or offer opportunities in which being outside and active play are appealing. We have to work a little harder at this today because we are competing with a device that answers many of our children's perceived needs. We need them to know that their needs are greater and more varied than what their screens can offer.
Have some rules
Despite their apparent dislike of rules around technology, children will (one day) appreciate having boundaries to help them manage their screen time. Rules can be established regarding time limits, devices in bedrooms, device-free meal times, etc. Whatever you decide is important, be sure that you have those discussions with your children. And any discussion around rules or consequences should happen away from the screens so they are clear on the expectations. (Talking about their screen-time habits while they are just about to be the last man standing on Fortnite is probably not going to make for engaging conversation.)
One console on one television…outside the bedroom
Having only one television that is connected to a gaming console or to Netflix is a good way of ensuring that the device gets shared and one child doesn’t monopolise the screen. And leave consoles out of bedrooms where the appeal of just one more quick game can very quickly rob them of important sleep time.
Make sure you are showing your children how you want them to be. Have times when the devices are put away and you give full attention to the people around you. Don’t answer calls or emails at the dinner table. Don’t fall asleep with a device landing on your forehead. Take time to get outside and do things active and in nature. Don’t ever use a phone while driving. Use the Screen Time feature on iOS products to monitor just how you are using your technology and whether you could be making some changes. Children learn more from what we do than what we say.
We know the technology isn’t going anywhere, and we know there are many wonderful benefits that screens provide. But ensure that holidays and downtime hours can be filled with many different experiences and in ways that leave your children in control, even if you have to work a little harder to give them that.