Setting time limits on technology use and devices seems to be one of the areas many parents struggle with when it comes to putting boundaries on kids screen time. It can however, be one of the most important steps we can take, particularly when our kids are young, to help ensure that they have a good grasp of the balance and perspective they need when playing games or ‘hanging out’ online. Here I have briefly outlined some responses to the most frequently asked questions when it comes to screen time and time limits and some of my tips to ensure we have a better chance of helping our kids keep that balance.
“Is my child addicted?”
Probably not, but there is always the possibility that they can develop some form of internet or gaming addiction or at the least be fighting every time you as them to put it away. For most kids the technology is simply an extension of themselves and their daily activites. Some kids can spend a lot of time with a screen but still manage to keep real life connections and relationships healthy and can still manage to balance all the other areas of their life. Others may need more parental involvement and boundaries to ensure they stay in control of the time they spend with the technology. If a child is neglecting these other facets of their life, then you are slipping in to problem territory. If they are not doing homework, participating in extra curricula activities which they once enjoyed, hanging out with friends and family, eating or sleeping properly, then you need to look at taking some steps to take back that control.
“My child argues with me every time I ask him to put away his device”
“When I ask my child to put the game away he screams that he needs to finish the level and that I don’t understand”
These questions sometimes come back to basic discipline problems. Many times when I speak to parents of these kids, you can rest assured their havnt been any boundaries placed on their screen time before. Trying to enforce these limitis when your child is much older is far more difficult. Getting in early with these boundaries, like any form of discipline is much easier when done earlier as the child is able to learn behaviours that in turn become good habits. Often however, even when kids are older, and it is more difficult, we need them to remember that we are still the parent and there will still always be standards of behaviour that you can expect in your household, which of course must extend to the use of technology. Often I hear parents lamenting what their child is doing and arguing with them, when they are in fact paying for the devices, paying all the bills, yet still feel they cannot take some control over their use. Whilst we know that our kids often see their devices as a lifeline to the rest of the world, we need them to be able to follow some basic rules. ……and for parents of younger children, I am now hearing
“When I tell my child they need to finish up the game I feel bad as they think they are being punished”
It is important kids understand early that the technology is great and can be a wonderful extension of their learning and entertainment. But it is just that. An extension of all the other ways they need to learn and develop. They still need to play with others and play by themselves. Even when they are playing nicely (and you are getting lots of things done), we still need to let them know there are limits and they need to be able to move to the next activity. Explain that they have 5 more minutes, or one more game depending on their age and understanding and then if you think it will be a problem, always have another activity or something else for them to go on with. This way we help them to focus more on all the other things they can do, rather than simply on the device that they can no longer have.
“Sometimes it is the only way to stop them throwing a tantrum whilst we are at the supermarket/coffee shop etc”
Now hopefully it is the toddlers throwing the tantrums and not the older kids in the supermarket, but yes we have all been guilty of handing over a device so we can get a minutes peace. We would rather they sit happily playing a game at the coffee shop so we can get in a conversation with friends. We would rather they sit in the trolly and swipe away than lie in the aisle screaming because we wont buy them a chocolate bar. Using technology as a distraction is fine. We just need to ensure that it is not the only distraction we have and we leave it for moments when we really need it. At the supermarket they can also help you collect all the groceries, at the coffee shop they can bring along some books or colouring. When you are at home be sure to offer other alternatives. So yes there are times when it is certainly helpful, but don’t have it as the only means of getting you through.
Exactly how much time should I allow my child to use technology?
The current recommendations from many ‘experts’ and organisations is: Toddlers: anything from zero time to less than an hour a day of supervised interaction. 5 – 8 yr olds: an hour a day 8-13 year olds: no more than 2 hours a day Now before you run for cover fearing the parent police will come hunting you down, I actually think these recommendations are not very helpful and often unrealistic. Particularly when we have many schools adopting a BYOD program that requires primary school kids (some as young as 5) to purchase their own device to use at school and at home. Clearly those figures are not going to add up. It is also difficult when we are not differentiating between the types of screen time kids are pursuing. An interactive and educational app can be far more beneficial than watching a movie, but there are also some great benefits to sitting down with your child and watching and learning from a television program. Some kids get enormous social and emotional benefits from being able to play video games. So there are so many variables that can come in to play, that it is difficult to put hourly figures on the way they use their screen time. So my advice, is to do what works for your family and your child. If they can happily play for a couple of hours spread over a day, or more over the weekend and still participate in family activities, can still engage in extra curricula pursuits and still maintain a healthy interest in hanging with friends and engaging in a variety of other activities, then you will be able to monitor what time limits work best for them. If they put it away when you ask them to, then they are more than likely still in control and doing fine. We need to maintain control, but we need to be realistic. In a nutshell, we should always aim to:
- Start early with time limits that we are able to enforce
- Role play healthy tech use ourselves. We can’t expect them to have good habits if we don’t.
- Give a warning for when the time is up to finish a game, video, conversation etc so that they don’t feel punished or cheated
- Continue to encourage real life relationships, activities away form the screens and involvement in either sporting groups, youth groups, theatre groups, the wider community and volunteering.
- Help provide other activities or distractions for them to go on with once they put away the screens
Remember you are still in charge. Whilst the screens are a huge part of their world, we need to remind our kids that technology and screen time comes with boundaries and limits. To avoid a challenging addiction, parents must play the biggest role in ensuring it remains a healthy addition to their adolescent lives.