Managing screentime is nothing new. Most of us remember the old wives’ tale that if you watched too much TV, your eyes – due to a biological anomaly that is nothing short of a clear miracle of evolution – will become square-shaped. However, never before have families had so many screens in the home. Tablets, phones, TVs, laptops and even really flash dishwashers are all demanding our attention.
Screens can be a great parenting ally when you need a guaranteed way of keeping kids distracted long enough for you to do literally anything you want, for as long as you want. The challenge that families face now is managing how much screen-time we should let our kids have. Or, looking at it from another angle, how much screen-free time can we give our kids?
- Screentime for kids – how do you keep it under control
- A contract to manage your family’s technology habits – a printable
- What using cellphones before bedtime does to our kids – according to science
You may have had this conversation with other parents before but perhaps it left you feeling like the weird techno-phobe hippy parent, and the only one who doesn’t let their child binge watch Game of Thrones in their bedroom all night. If you are concerned with your family’s screen-time, however, you’re in good company. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was famously once asked, “Your kids must love the iPad?” to which he surprisingly replied, “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home”. If Jobs and other tech-execs are taking action in their own families to manage this issue, then the rest of us should take note.
One of the explanations for why screens are so addictive, and even most adults struggle with the discipline of limiting their use, is that there are no stopping cues; prompts that make you consider whether to continue. Until now, most forms of media had stopping cues. You would finish a book and put it down. You would watch an episode and then have to wait a week until the next one aired. You would play Twister and then get all tangled in a human knot and have to stop before you caught a stray elbow to the ribcage. Social media, YouTube and websites are bottomless feeds that never cue you to stop. So one of the most practical ways that parents can manage screen-time is by creating consistent stopping cues in your home.
Here are three easy stopping cues that you can use in your home to help you wage war against square eyes.
Families who eat together, speak together. There are numerous benefits to eating a meal at a table together: it creates space for conversations, is a key protective factor for young people, and it usually excludes the dog, which keeps him humble. Having a consistent family dinnertime is one of the most natural stopping cues for our devices. Everyone, including parents, leaves their phones, computers, movies and video games when eating together, creating space to connect.
If you start your day disconnected from technology you may find that you connect better with the real flesh-and-blood people in front of you. Create a culture in your home where everyone has screen-free time before school. Some parents may need to make exceptions for phone calls, but the general rule is no TV, iPad, video games or social media before school. This is a healthy boundary to begin your day with.
You could keep your child’s bedroom a screen-free space, which would then create another stopping-cue in your home. Whenever they walk into their room, they are walking through a portal into a safe pre-screen world where there are no video games, no online bullying and nobody wants your mum’s credit card details. This boundary is easier to enforce if the whole family joins in. Create a family phone-charging station in a shared space where everyone leaves their device for the night. Young people will argue that they need their phones at night and they may even put forward a compelling case. They will tell you that they need it for the alarm clock or the torch or for reading their bible, but you can solve those issues with alarm clocks and lamps and bibles. Bedtime is the best time to be screen-free.
Screens are everywhere in our lives – you are literally looking at one right now – and so finding creative ways to limit how much time our children spend engaged with a screen is more important than ever.
This article is part of a paid partnership between Parenting Place and Safe Surfer.