In today’s world, screens reign supreme. It’s come to a point where it’s possible to spend nearly every minute of the day with your eyes glued to one screen or another. Shopping can be done online, movies and television can be streamed endlessly, and the number of apps available for every possible interest is staggering.
Due to the rapid growth of technology in the world a great divide has developed between parents and children. While most adults grew up without much technology at all, kids today are obsessed with – and sometimes addicted to – tablets, phones, televisions and computers.
While there are plenty of apps out there promoting education and cognitive development, studies show that too much time in front of a screen can damage a child’s ability to think critically, read human emotions and properly utilize their imagination.
It would be nice if solving the screen time problem could be as simple as saying, “go play outside,” to your kids, but if they’ve developed a technology dependency, it’s going to take a little more effort to instill new, healthy habits.
Here are some tips to get your kids to trade Netflix for nature or video games for – gasp! – a real, printed-on-paper book.
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When considering an appropriate use of screen time, looking at how much time is spent on all daily activities is a must. How much time are the kids reading? What about studying or learning a new skill? Do they play outside? Do they contribute regularly to household chores?
If your child is spending hours in front of a screen and zero time outdoors, reading, creating art, playing music, participating in sports or any other number of activities, it’s time to bring things back into balance.
Set a limit on how much screen time your child can have in a day, and then take it one step further. Add in time for other activities and chores and make sure that those things are done before allowing screen time.
Introducing new activities will automatically reduce the amount of screen time that is available. Who knows? Maybe your child will take such a shine to a new instrument or sport that they don’t even miss the loss of those extra screen time hours.
Set a Schedule
Lending itself to the aforementioned importance of balance, a good schedule can come in handy when addressing the issue of too much screen time. Not only does it allow you and your child to stay on track with all necessary daily tasks, rituals and activities, but it visually keeps both of you on the same page.
Creating a schedule that can be posted to the fridge or the wall allows you and the child to work together to make sure the schedule is being followed. Rather than constantly directing the child, there’s something there for them to get on board with. You can make the schedule together, and if your kid is into it, you can even spend time together crafting a cool-looking schedule board that your child can feel a sense of pride about creating.
If they feel like they’ve had a hand in making the schedule, odds are they’ll be more inclined to stick to it. Work together and make discipline fun.
Provide Incentives – For a While
In an ideal world, your child would inherently know that consistent self-improvement in the form of reading, learning or creating is worth so much more than watching another episode of Family Guy. But that’s just not the world we live in. Instead, the incentive of additional screen time can sometimes prove useful to get your child to engage in things they otherwise would avoid like the plague.
You tell your child that if they do a chore, then they can have more screen time. Or if they play outside, then they get an extra hour in front of the TV. By using the promise of screen time to bolster your child’s development in other areas it becomes a helpful tool.
However, incentives can backfire in the long run because they build up high value around the thing that seems hard to get. Screen time all of a sudden becomes so important that your child has to work to get it. This approach takes power away from other activities as they instead become mere boxes to check off in service of getting the prize of added screen time.
If you go the incentive route, use it as a means to create healthy habits in your child. Once they are well-balanced and steadily participating in other activities, you may be able to reintroduce regular (albeit limited) screen time as part of the daily schedule, rather than something they have to work for.
Very few people – adults and children alike – enjoy being told what to do. In fact, the feeling of being bossed around can lead to rebellion, resentment and anger. If your child is fighting back against your rules and regulations surrounding screen time, let it be an opportunity to create a common vision for your child’s life that you both can get behind.
Sit down with your child and discuss goals. Talk about why it is important to limit screen time. Ask them questions about what they’re doing with all that time in front of the computer, tablet or phone and why they choose the apps/shows/games they do. Show interest without automatically leaping to screen time reduction.
At the end of the day, if your child is bent on resisting healthier screen time habits, you may just have to lay down the law and do what’s best for them. However, opening solid lines of communication provides the opportunity for your child to truly think about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Talking about the issue of screen time in a candid, respectful manner can make your child feel like they have a choice, which provides a sense of freedom.
Help your child come to their own conclusions about screen time use. Guide them with questions and insight and offer helpful solutions. Listen to them. It can be tough sometimes, especially with teens, but the rewards of an honest conversation can be great.
Lead by Example
Kids aren’t the only ones who regularly fall down the technology rabbit hole. All of us have succumbed to the power of Instagram, infinite Facebook updates and several day long binges of House of Cards or Westworld. But whether they admit it or not, your kids look to you for silent guidance of how they can and should behave.
Where are you spending too much time in front of a screen? How often are you caught mindlessly scrolling social media? Where in your daily routine could you cut some of your screen time fat in favor of taking a walk, reading a couple chapters of a book or hitting up a fun cooking class?
When you instill greater self-discipline in your own life, you give yourself greater leverage to build that structure into your kid’s lives. It’s easy to argue with someone who won’t hold themselves accountable to the same standards they’re insisting others follow.
Yes, you are the adult and they are the child, but that doesn’t really fly in most kid’s minds. However, if you can point to your own habits and show that you are following similar rules, it’s far more difficult to argue. They may still quarrel with you because that’s what kids do, but you will feel much more solid in your side of the debate if you’ve cleaned up your own screen time habits.
Changing a habit is hard. If you’re lucky, your child is young enough that you’re still in the initial habit-forming phase. But even if you’re dealing with an apathetic or combative teen, there are still ways to alter the current brain-sucking screen time patterns.
Try out some of these tips in your family and see what happens. If a schedule doesn’t work, attempt a deep, structured conversation. Or perhaps incentive-driven change is what’s best for you.
The point is, no habit need be permanent. If something doesn’t work, keep searching for the right solution. You know that your child will benefit from less screen time. Let the power of your intention to create a healthier growth environment for your child fuel you through whatever difficulties may come during screen time detox or habit changes. Your child will thank you when they’re older, even if they don’t like it right now.