What is our role as parents when it comes to screentime and digital devices?
These little devices that connect us, entertain us, provide us with information, show us where to go, keep us organised and allow us to indulge in retail therapy from almost anywhere, have become an integral part of our daily lives. Most of us won’t leave home for long periods of time without being tethered to a digital device.
But when it comes to our children and their screentime habits, we are often lamenting the role the devices play. These little screens that offer so much and answer so many of our needs, leave us wondering how much is too much, and how do we keep it under control?
When parents ask me this I urge them to dig a little deeper to look at what else they could really be asking. We need to look at how the individual is coping with their screentime. Are they still doing the things they always enjoyed? Are they able to put it away without a fight? What sorts of things are the doing on the screens? Is it a positive experience? Are they learning something? Are they merely consuming media or are they interacting with it? These are the questions we need to be constantly revisiting throughout their adolescent years.
But we do need to give them the skills and behaviours to stay in control of their screentime use and make sure that they are instilling good habits from the beginning. To help form these habits, here are a few things we can do.
Look at how you are role modelling screentime behaviours.
We know our kids learn much more from watching what we do as opposed to listening to what we say. How is your technology use affecting you? Are you ignoring others because you are scrolling? Are you falling asleep with a phone landing on your foreheard? Are you able to give yourself over to certain tasks and focus without being distracted by beeps and notifications? Are you giving yourself some time without a device to enjoy family, friends and activities to keep you healthy and balanced?
Have rules that are ‘non negotaible’ rules for your family.
When it comes to technology, the rules often change as our children develop and mature. But there are some rules we can make that can be universal for the whole family. It may be that there are no phones in the bedroom at night. It may be that there is no technology after a certain time of the day. And it should be that devices never, ever come to the table at dinner time. Aiming for at least a few meals where the family is eating together is crucial. They need this time to talk, connect with family, have a break from being ‘switched on’ to a device and they need to get in to the habit of not eating and scrolling. So make your rules early and stick to them.
Look at how your child is coping
Some children are very compliant when told to put away a device. Others put on quite a show, horrified that you want to drag them away from the latest game, chat, or snap. So make sure your child is coping and complying with the limits you set up. Are they still seeing friends, enjoying extra curricula activities, giving time to siblings, pets, homework, chores and getting enough sleep? Are they coming to the dinner table without a device and without a fight? If not, then now is the time to get on top of these behaviours. It is a lot easier to change the behaviours of an 8 or 9 year old than it is a 13 or 14 year old, so take the time now to set them up to be in control.
Build a culture of balanced play in your home
There is no doubt that we as parents need to work harder today to nurture all the many elements of a child’s development that needs to happen. When a small device appears to provide them with so much it is little wonder our kids have trouble putting them down and going outside to play. Unlike a book or a game there is often no end to what happens with a device. There is always something more to see or do, another level to reach, another city to build or another army to destroy. So we need to get better at providing lots of other ways they are entertained, informed and connected to others. It means we may have to physically go outside and play rather than simply tell them. It means we may have to insist on visits to places where devices don’t come out. Kids still want to run and jump and play, they just need to be reminded and encouraged even more so today. By building in to our kids lives from an early age the many other ways they can learn, play and interact, we are helping it become part of their daily lives and thus habits that in turn become their behaviours.
So whilst we are often feeling like the devices are taking over, all of these strategies rely on us the parents. We need to be the ones to get in early and help show them the way. We need to take a look at what we are showing them in terms of our own use and our own lifestyle. We need to be helping them form the right behaviours. There are many wonderful benefits that come with these devices, so ensuring we are using them in positive ways and are in control, will go a long way to ensure we are all reaping those benefits.