When you had your kids, I’m guessing you didn’t think the biggest daily battle would be getting them off their devices.
Yet, here we are… statistics show that kids’ screen time has skyrocketed during the pandemic, which has been a godsend – but also created other problems. Parents across Australia have reached out to us for help and support because their kids are obsessed with their devices and nothing they do seems to help.
Here are 5 of the most common mistakes we see parents make when trying to balance kids’ screen time with other activities.
Dictating terms and not allowing the kids to have a say
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I hated being told what to do. (Come to think of it, I still do!). I am astounded when I hear so many parents being strict and dictatorial – either they have short memories, or they liked experiencing that as a child themselves. Regardless of your thoughts about this parenting style, it doesn’t work in the long run.
Kids whose parents have strict rules with no consultation are far more likely to sneak hidden devices, get up and play in the middle of the night or play for hours at friends’ houses and lie about it. They’re also more at risk of addiction when they leave home and don’t have parents telling them what to do.
A far more effective, sustainable option is to sit down with your kids and have a heart to heart with them. Discuss your concerns. Let them speak. Ask them what they love most about screens. Seek to understand. Explain why balance is important for their health. Say that you’re willing to compromise, and they need to be too. Ask them to come up with a set of guidelines around the times they are allowed to play. Give it a go – they might surprise you!
Being inconsistent with the screen time rules
None of us is perfect and as busy parents, we are not always able to enforce rules. However, once you’ve created a set of guidelines, it’s important you stick to them, especially for the first month or so after they’re implemented. Once the kids understand and become comfortable with the new routines, they become second nature. For example screens off during dinner, no devices after 8 pm, maximum sitting of 2 hours before a one hour break, total screen time per day – whatever guidelines you come up with.
If you do lapse, explain honestly to the kids what happened (e.g. you were unwell, had a very hectic work schedule or simply forgot!) and pick up again as soon as you can.
Asking the kids to get off immediately without any warning
It used to drive me crazy when I wanted my kids to come for dinner and it would take them 15 or 20 minutes to finish what they were doing! One day my son explained that he was playing a multiplayer game over the internet with people from around the world, and he would be letting the team down if he just left mid-game. Some games also penalise you if you leave without finishing. Now I make a point of giving my kids 20 minute and 5-minute warnings when dinner’s ready. It also helps avoid those tech meltdowns.
Expecting the kids will know what to do when they’re off screens
Unfortunately, too many kids have lost the art of making their own fun. This is not their fault! Our modern, busy world contains so much structured activity and kids need our help with this. Yes – if you leave them alone for long enough, they will eventually find something to do, but if you’re wanting to avoid the “I’m bored” and another constant nagging, then work with your child to create a list of things they can do away from their devices. Here are some categories to help get you started .. creative play (dress-ups, role-playing, drawing, painting, craft, lego, music, puzzles), reading, physical play (including time outside), helping around the house.
Being a poor role model for screen time
It’s not just our kids that are constantly attached to our devices. As parents, we need to consider our place as the key role model for our children. Kids often don’t do as we say, they do as we do. Growing up in a world where adults are always staring at a screen feels like “normal” to them. When you sit down and chat with your kids, ask them if they think you use your own devices too much. If you need them for work, explain what you are doing and why. If you can agree to make some changes of your own, this will show them that you are also committed to what’s best for you and your own health.
Stephanie Kakris has a Masters in Psychology and is a published parenting author. She is the co-founder of ScreenCoach, a combined hardware and software platform where kids are allocated a set amount of screen time, and after their time is up, they need to go and complete activities such as exercise, chores, or non-screen play to earn more time before they can resume. Find out more at www.myscreencoach.com