How do I control my child’s screentime? How much screentime should my child be allowed? How much is too much? How do I stop them from having a tech tantrum every time I ask them to put away the screens?
These questions are asked by parents all the time as they struggle to feel in control of the amount of time their child uses screens and technology. With so much of their world revolving around the entertainment, information and socialisation provided by the screens, it is easy to see how parents can feel overwhelmed by the amount of time kids spends scrolling and swiping. But how do we take back some control and ensure our kids are able to develop healthy tech use habits that become the behaviours they take with them throughout adolescents and beyond?
Screentime limits while you can
Start early with time limits so they can better regulate their behaviours as they get older. Changing the behaviours of a 7 year old is much much easier than that of a 14 year old.
Give them a warning if they are prone to whinge about the game that isn’t finished, the level they haven’t reached or the video clip that is still playing. If they are a child prone to struggling to get off, then decide together something you think is fair.
For little kids prone to tech tantrums, give them an activity to go on with so they don’t feel they are being punished by having the technology taken away. They need to know there are lots of different ways they can learn and be entertained and the screens are just one of the many activities they can engage in on any day.
What about older kids and homework?
As kids get older it gets a lot more complicated in terms of how much screentime they are having. Because they need it for homework. They need it to stay connected to friends.
It is no longer relevant to stick to hours and minutes to measure their screentime. The questions we need to be asking, therefore need to change as they get older.
The questions we should be asking….
How are they using their screentime?
Are they engaging in positive interactions and experiences?
Are they still participating in other areas of their lives? Are they maintaining relationships and friendships away from the screens?Are they still playing sports and engaging in the extra curricula activities they have enjoyed?
Are they getting enough sleep?
Are they eating properly and coming to the table without a fight?
Are they making good choices with how they spend their time online?
If the answers to these questions suggest the technology is not providing them with positive and relevant experiences, then it would be time to implement some changes.
Have some ‘no brainer’ family rules
By having some ‘no brainer’ family rules we are able to ensure that there are certain times that you can rely on as a family to switch off. For example, no devices at the dinner table. Making this something that your family always insists on allows them to better connect with each other. It also gives them much needed time to socially and emotionally switch off from the feeling of always being connected and ready to respond to people. It’s ok for them to learn that their friends messages can wait. Other ‘no brainer’ rules may be about devices in the bedrooms. Certainly for younger kids where there is no need for them to be using screens for homework before bed then it is crucial their brains get time free from the stimulation and blue lights emitted from the screens. And even for older kids we know that the notifications and lure of games and social media can mean precious sleeping hours are lost. And if they tell you that they need a device for their alarm, I am here to tell you that you can still buy alarm clocks.
But how much screentime?
Experts the world around are struggling to come up with something that is realistic and yet offers parents some guidance. The reality is that whilst the research is still inconclusive as to the effects on our brain and physical development we are really making the judgement calls as we go. And it also seems there is not ‘a one size fits all’ rule for all children.
Generally however I would recommend limiting the time on screentime for preschoolers. That isn’t to say they cant play some games or watch some videos for those moments when it is needed. There are however, so many other important developments going on that need to happen at this crucial stage, so we need to make sure there is plenty of time for those other activities. And when the screens are used at this age, the greatest benefits come from the interactive nature of the technology, so using the technology together with your child not only ensures they are getting the learning benefits but also the added bonus of bonding with you. And always know the games or shows your child is watching when they start out so you know that what they are doing is age and developmentally appropriate for them.
As kids get older we hope we have instilled in them some good habits around tech use and we hope that they can continue these when we are unable to be monitoring and policing every time they are on the screens. Providing those tech free times, promoting and nurturing other activities away from the screens and role modelling good device use, also helps to keep things under control when they are older. And if they are tantruming during the teenage years then plenty of parents have pulled the plug on the wifi at night to ensure their kids are getting some help to regulate those behaviours and ensure they get some sleep.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Very good article, I had some fears about this subject, since I spend most of my time in front of a computer screen ( work , gaming , watching movies etc ).
As a soon to be father ( in 2 days to be exact ) this was worrying me because whether I like it or not my little boy might end up like me, I know it’s not a bad thing, but I would like to have a good mix of screentime and off screentime. Your article gave me some ideas to set up a time limit and rules, who knows it might even help me!
I am a gamer for last 20 years but i never thought like you. I spend most of my time with my computer and PS4. But after reading your post i am little bit of worry about my 6 years old son. He just copy me what i doing. But i think i have to make some rules so that my son will not grow up like me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.