Tired of the constant fights about screentime? Not sure how to help your kids manage screens, social media, and video games? Here are some tips to get you started!
When my kids were young, I was envious of other families who had movie nights. I imagined them cuddled up under blankets sharing a bowl of popcorn.
In our house, movie night ended with an hour-long tantrum.
And so, we avoided watching TV as a family at night. We knew our daughter couldn’t make the transition from screentime to bed, so it wasn’t fair to put her in that position simply because we wanted to veg out on the couch.
Fast forward a few years, everyone’s older, more mature, and we watch movies and TV shows together regularly. Even at night before bed.
Your Child and Screens
It’s a good reminder that screentime and screen use can, and should, change and evolve as your children grow. Starting young gives you the chance to set a healthy foundation around screens. But even if your kids are older now, it’s not too late to evaluate and decide the boundaries around screens.
Like everything in parenting, screen use will look different in every family. Rather than comparing your child’s screentime to others their age, I’d encourage you to think critically about what your unique child needs.
Maybe you’ll find, like we did, that your child cannot manage much screen use right now.
Maybe you’ll find that your child seems to do OK with screens, but needs guidance around safety online.
Maybe you’ll realize that it’s your own screentime that needs to be evaluated.
Whatever it is, start by being open and curious. Being willing to take an honest look – without judgment or criticism.
Tips to Build Healthy Screentime Habits
- Start with you – Before you put the focus on how often your kids are on screens, take stock of your own screen use. How often do you say, “just a minute” while you finish scrolling social media? Do you jump on your device right away in the morning? Do you feel compelled to check it often? Is lengthy screentime getting to be a habit for your family as a whole? Is there guilt or shame tied in with you or your child’s screen use?
- Set limits with kindness – There is nothing wrong with watching a show or letting your kids play a game on your phone once in a while, but watch that it does not become your go-to distraction. It’s OK for kids to be bored – that’s where their creativity shines! And, despite what your kids may tell you, it’s OK if your tween does not have a phone. And it’s OK to follow the recommended guidelines for games and social media accounts.
- Ease the transition – Rather than expecting your child to turn off their screens immediately, use connection to help their brain transition from one task to the next. Sit down next to your child, ask questions about their show, game, or activity. Once you have reconnected, you can reiterate the end of screentime and maybe even continue this connection by doing something together.
- Allow all feelings – Video games are designed to keep the player engaged and playing, making it difficult to find a “good place to stop.” Your child may be overstimulated by screentime and have difficulty moving on after all the action. Many kids have difficulty regulating during this transition. Work to stay calm and connected. Supporting them, rather than forcing them to “calm down” or “get over it” right away.
- Move from monitor to mentor – As your kids grow, your role in screentime changes. Instead of simply limiting time on devices, your job is to educate, support, and guide them through the nuances of using screens. Talk about safety, help them think through consequences of behaviors, and fact check articles, etc. Instead of lectures, these are conversations that change as your child matures, and the content they consume matures.
- Listen well – If screentime is a constant source of tension in your home, start by being willing to understand your child’s point of view. Truly work to hear your child’s perspective. You may see things in a different way but resist the urge to point out inconsistencies or turn this into a teachable moment. Instead, make sure you understand what’s important and where things are breaking down.
- Problem-solve together – Once your child feels heard, you can move on to the solution phase. The goal is to work together to brainstorm a solution that works for everyone (not just one of you!). This might mean a screentime contract, limits on certain media, or learning a new game together. Don’t be discouraged if your first solution doesn’t work, return to listening, and go back to problem-solving.
- Get professional help – If your child feels especially anxious, angry, or obsessive about screens or if their screen use seems to impact their self-esteem and self-image in a negative or unhealthy way, it may be helpful to seek the support of a mental health professional. These sessions can help your child learn to manage these feelings and find a healthy relationship with screens, social media, and games. And, of course, I’m always here to support you as you address screentime issues with your kids.
Screens are in our lives more than ever before. And, they show no sign of slowing down their influence and impact.
But you have influence and impact too!
It’s tempting to move to angry and authoritarian parenting when screentime issues come up. And, it’s easy to slip into apathy, feeling tired from the constant fighting. Both responses are normal.
As you navigate screentime in your home, be patient. Give yourself lots of grace as you work toward respectful conversations about screentime and practicing calm, confident parenting with your kids.