What rules should I have for my family when it comes to screentime? How much screentime should my children be allowed? What can they play, watch, consume on the screens? At what point will they become addicted to their screen?
These are just some of the many questions I get asked from parents, but like all things parenting in a digital world, there are many variances and stipulations to these answers.
We do certainly need to change the question from ‘how much time’ to other more relevant enquiries, such as, ‘what exactly are they consuming and engaging with on the screens?
And even more pertinent is, ‘what is my child consuming and engaging in and what is the effect it is having on that child’?
Once I determine how my individual child is coping and have understood their needs, challenges and experiences, I can better put in place the boundaries and engage in the conversations I need to have.
When we look at kids with individual needs, predispositions, personalities, thresholds, attitudes, resilience, self esteem and sensitivity, then we are far better placed to parent them in the digital space in a meaningful and relevant way.
Now I certainly believe in having some blanket rules for a family. Those that are non negotiable for everyone. Rules such as no devices at the dinner table, no devices after a certain time of night, no disrespecting others online etc. Whatever you see appropriate as a family to fit in with your values and ideals, can be adopted as your family rules.
But there will be other rules and expectations that will change as your child changes and there will also be those rules and expectations that are different for different children.
What affects one child may not affect another in the same way. One child may find it harder to separate from the gaming console than another. One may find themselves less confident and assured and thus constantly comparing themselves to others online and feeling the constant wrath of comparison and exclusion. One may be spending all their time researching solutions to a problem they are passionate about whilst another may be spending their days browsing pornography. Vastly different experiences and effects.
So look at your individual child and see how they are coping with the status quo.
- Are they getting enough sleep or staying up all night gaming or on social media?
- Are they eating properly and happily coming to the table without a device or throwing a tantrum at mealtimes?
- Are they able to play a first person shooter game without becoming moody and aggressive?
- Are they still fitting in the other activities that they have always enjoyed?
- Do they still experience frequent face to face interactions with friends and family?
- Are they able to engage in social media without it tearing apart their self esteem?
- Are they able to find the time and focus to give to tasks that require concentration without distractions?
- Are they able to handle mature themes in video content or are they having nightmares?
- Can they easily put away devices or do they require 3rd party apps fo effectively manage their time?
As a mother to 5 children I am well aware of how very different each one can be. Their needs, personalities and circumstances all require at times, a different approach to parenting. Whilst I only parent boys myself, I also know there are some distinct differences between parenting boys and girls in this space. In terms of challenges for young people, girls tend to be more concerned with some of the social and emotional dilemmas and dramas of social media. The aesthetic nature of their social media feeds can sometimes leave their self esteem in tatters. There can also be a focus on the dilemmas of friendship issues, group chats gone wrong and a need to be socially switched on and answerable to their devices at all times. Boys on the other hand tend to struggle more with managing their time on gaming devices and they may also experience bullying and aggressive behaviours but they tend to manifest and play out in different ways. Generalisations, maybe, but certainly we know there are some marked differences to parenting boys and girls.
So whilst one child may work better with strict time limits, another may be allowed greater flexibility to manage their own time. Some children may need certain content restricted whilst others may not experience any ill affects. One child may be more sensitive to online comments and take on board every judgement and opinion of others. and have them switched off, whilst others may be more resilient to the opinions of others. Others on the other hand may dust off the views of others as part and parcel of a very public and connected world.
Regardless of whether you have boys, girls or a mixture, it is important to try not to be swayed by what everyone else is doing. Their child may be vastly different to yours and its fair to say as parents, we know our children well, so we need to make sure we are meeting their needs and challenges.
If you do have a child who struggles to regulate their screentime use, it may be helpful to look into the Family Zone system to manage time limits as gain greater control to their access to media, social networks and content that may need regulating or removing.
And if you would like an extra hand understanding how to parent the needs of girls or boys then take a look at these fabulous courses from Michael Grose from Parenting Ideas . I have given him a hand on the digital parenting aspect of the raising boys and the raising girls courses, but there are some other fabulous experts helping out on all things pertaining to the specific needs and nuances of parenting each gender. You can find out more info on those courses here.