For parents who want their kids to put down their screens and engage in more activities and conversations.
Over the course of this pandemic a question that keeps coming up is: “How do I get my kids off their devices? My kids are getting way too much screen time!” For obvious reasons, it’s understandable that kids are spending extensive time on their electronics. The pandemic has changed our day-to-day activities, and we’ve had to adjust and bend the rules. Children are being subjected to more screen time than they would even like. Learning virtually has not been easy, not is it healthy learning model for children and development.
That being said, there are some ideas you can consider to address this problem.
A First This and Then Approach
Instead of placing a time restriction around screen time, encourage your children to do something before they get access to their device. For example, if they have household responsibilities, have them do those first. You will structure this plan ahead of time with your kids. Explain to them that you understand how much they enjoy playing on their iPad or watching a show, but before they can do that, they need to clean up all their toys and make their beds. Once they’ve competed their tasks they get access to their devices.
You could also use this approach to encourage them to participate in two to three different non-screen activities. For example, you may encourage them to play outside, do an art activity where creativity is exercised, build with blocks, etc. First explain the activities and allow them to choose two. They need to spend time on those activities first before they get access to screen time.
As a parent, you want to expose your children to an array of activities, even if they prefer electronics.
Reframe Your Expectations
I was working with a parent recently and she asked, “How can I successfully take the iPad away from my 7-year-old without him having a meltdown?” I asked, “Why can’t he have a meltdown?” She said, “Well, I was hoping you would give me a way to successfully remove the iPad without him losing it.”
Her concern is that of many. I’m always asked: How do I establish boundaries for my kids without them “losing it?” Let’s reframe what we think is a successful outcome.
Boundaries are necessary for kids and adults. Children require us to place these boundaries, because they do not have the neurological maturity to do it for themselves. When we place a healthy boundary, expect for them to get upset. That’s ok. They need to go through that. Of course, it doesn’t feel good, and yes, it’s exhausting. But as parents, we have to detach from the idea that a successful parenting moment means our children respond calmly and happily.
Let your child have a meltdown. That doesn’t mean you’re making the wrong parenting choice. Stay calm and acknowledge how she’s feeling. “I know you’re bummed about having to turn off the iPad.” That’s all you need to say, and just be there and hold space. Don’t give it back to her, and don’t give a secondary item to reduce the tantrum. Let her go through it. The more you do this, the tantrums and meltdowns will subside over time. Remaining consistent and keeping boundaries is necessary for children. They won’t like it, but they will learn you mean what you say. This will carry more weight in the future.
Teens and Electronics
For older children your approach can look a little different. When our kids become teenagers the idea of screen time becomes contentious. We’re quick to tell them to get off their devices, and we lose the ability to practice patience.
We set up an environment where they feel the need to defend their choice. The minute we — or our kids — become defensive, listening stops. We try even harder to prove that we’re right. Each party is in a standstill, digging their heels in the ground unwilling to listen.
Let’s flip the script on this and completely change our mindset. First, have a conversation with your child and allow him to share why he loves to play on his Xbox or iPad. Really listen. Your child has to know what’s important to him matters to you too. You want to approach without judgement and from a place of curiosity.
Next, affirm what he has said and then share with him why you as a parent need to expose him to different activities. Explain the importance of household responsibilities, schoolwork, family time and other activities. But acknowledge that you understand why playing on the Xbox is important to him.
Next you can implement a first this and then approach. You can say:
I get it. I’m sure it must be a blast playing your game and connecting with your friends online. I won’t place a time limit on you, but here’s what I need first.
This is where you decide what you need from him first before he gets access to his game. It doesn’t have to be household chores. I was recently talking to a parent who said, “I would love to have family time and one-on-one time with my teenagers.” You can make that your ask. Give the option of three different activities and let them choose one or two.
Don’t take it personally when they get mad. In fact, expect them to not like the idea that they have to do something else. That’s ok.
Parent Flexibly, Not Rigidly
You’ll hear me say this quite a bit. As a parent it’s so important that we remain flexible and tune into to our child’s needs. Every day and situation is different, and remaining present and mindful will allow you to remain flexible.
For example, a parent finds out her child is playing on his device, and it’s been too long. She marches in his room and says, “You need to get off your device now!” The child says, “Ok, this is my last game — it only has two minutes left.” “NO, turn it off NOW!!”
What if you just let the extra two minutes go? What if the situation looked something like this:
Parent: Hey how’s it going? Are you in the middle of a game?
Parent: How much time is left?
Child: Two minutes.
Parent: Ok, finish this game up and make it your last one.
Child: Oh, but I want to keep playing.
Parent: I get it, but I need you to take a break. You can either finish this game or turn it off now. It’s up to you?
That’s it. They can get mad. You should stay calm and recognize that their reaction is not personal. Maintain your boundary, and don’t keep arguing with them. Depending on how you have responded previously it may take time, but eventually they will know you mean what you say.
How much time do you spend on your phone and computer?
Lastly, pay close attention to the amount of time you spend on your phone, computer, iPad, etc. Remember, kids feel and see much more than they hear. They are always observing your actions. Have household rules that everyone follows. For example, in my house when we eat as a family no phones are allowed. It doesn’t matter if it rings, pings, notifies you of a Facebook comment, they are put away. When we talk with each other the phone has to be put down. Engaged and active listening is expected. That goes for the adults too. If you’re in the middle of something on your phone, try this, “Give me one minute to finish sending this text, and then I’m all yours.”
At the end of the day, a balanced, flexible approach will always create more peace in your household. In the book “No-Drama Discipline” by Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and Dr. Daniel Siegel, they talk about trying to stay in the space between rigidity and chaos. This is a good measure to use. The minute we become rigid parents, balance is lost, and stress is gained. When things are completely chaotic, we lose any sense of peace and calm. As a parent myself, finding that sweet spot in the middle is the best place to be. Take it day by day and give yourself grace.