As much as screen time is here to stay, parents are tired of this neverending issue… Parents don’t need Harvard research to tell us how bad it is for kids to be on their screens all day every day. The moodiness, weight gain, the compulsive desire to be online at all times is enough to worry any parent. No matter how much screen time they get, it seems as though they never get enough.
And, parents also know that strong, clear boundaries are important for kids when it comes to technology. But how to enforce boundaries without all the unpleasant fighting and nagging?
“Children need a diverse menu of online and offline experiences, including the chance to let their minds wander.”
–Screen Time and the Brain
Frankly, parents deserve to use their energy for more enjoyable pursuits than nagging kids to get off their devices.
Here are 3 creative ways to handle this sticky situation with positivity and grace.
1) Schedule a Family Meeting to Talk about Screen Time
If you’ve never had a family meeting before, you’re in for a treat. Whether you do this just once (or continue it on a regular basis), family meetings can be a simple and fun way to bond as a family. Family meetings also help ensure kids know that their feelings and ideas are important, building healthy self-esteem.
In Raising Human Beings, child psychologist Dr. Ross Greene teaches us how to solve problems collaboratively in a beautiful 3-step process involving empathy (deep listening), sharing your (adult) concerns and perspectives, and then inviting solutions.
Here’s how those steps can apply to the family meeting:
- Empathy: In a caring way that shows compassion, start the meeting by gathering as much information from the kids as you can. Ask them non-judgmental and open-ended questions about their online activities such as “what do you love most about playing Roblox?” or “why do you prefer watching TikTok videos to YouTube”?
As a huge bonus, this process goes a long way toward establishing open dialogue between you and your kids about their digital life, a key factor in keeping them safe online.
- Define your concerns: Share your thoughts with your kids. Tell them how much you love them and want them to be healthy. Tell them truthfully about whatever you may have concerns about (e.g., “it bothered me to see you having a sore neck and headaches when you were doing online school”).
- Invite them to share solutions: Brainstorm together about potential solutions.
“The most important thing is to have an open dialogue with your kids… Talk to them about the types of things they do online. You have to show a genuine curiosity about what they’re doing.” – John Zubiak, Computer System Technology program chair
When done with an open heart and mind, this process can lead to some interesting and unexpected solutions and changes.
Once you have some workable solutions in hand, test them out and see what happens (for example, set the screen time limits on the devices and continue to monitor your kid’s devices)! Make adjustments as necessary.
Here are some more tips to make your family meeting a memorable and impactful event:
Build Anticipation for the Meeting (with Snacks!)
When you announce that there will be a family meeting to talk about screen time, make sure to mention there will be snacks. Everyone loves snacks, right?
Also, let everyone know it will be both fun and short. If it’s your first time having a family meeting, everyone will be naturally curious about what it will be like.
Keep the Meeting Short and Simple
This meeting is not to make extra work for you. Keep everything as simple as humanly possible for yourself: pick a place in the home that’s comfortable for everyone, grab some snacks everyone will enjoy, and grab a piece of paper and pen to keep track of key ideas that emerge.
Invite Everyone with Key Involvement
Invite everyone who lives in your home, and anyone else who has a key involvement in your child’s life (even consider inviting your ex/the co-parent if that’s possible) but don’t stress if not everyone can come.
One of the key points of a family meeting is to teach your kids that their ideas and opinions are important. Use open-ended questions to find out what everyone’s opinion is on screen time. You might be surprised by what interesting information you learn.
Take Notes and Follow Up
If it makes sense, designate someone as the note taker to keep track of important ideas and decisions that get made. After the meeting, these notes can go on the fridge and can be re-visited from time-to-time.
2) Earning Screen Time
Julie Cole, co-founder of Mabel’s Labels and author of Like A Mother, shares this ingenious screen time strategy: make kids earn screen time by doing something of “real life” value in exchange.
Between 6pm–8pm, kids can earn screen time by doing their homework, walking the dog, practising an instrument, or playing outside. In this simple system, earned time matches with the amount of screen time (so if one of the kids walks the dog for 30 minutes, they earn 30 minutes of screen time).
This system works on the honour system (so the kids must monitor their own time. If she finds them cheating, they lose their privileges). However, if you have younger kids, you could create a simple chart to keep track of time earned and spent.
In an article 3 Tips to Keep Your Kids Safe from Online Threats Julie also shares that another of the various solutions she’s tried: minimize screen time during the week (see below). “Because I have so many children and there is so much activity, I have just found it is easier in our home to have no screens during the week. Obviously, if they’re working on a school project, that is fine, but there are no video games, YouTube videos, etc.”
3) Screen-Free Time
Consider designating certain blocks of time to be "screen-free.”
This could be one (or more) days a week where–instead of screen time–you play board games, go bowling, or read together. And/or it be more like firm limits around using screen time on school nights or before bed.
Since this solution requires enforcing limits for screen use, it can be a tricky sell to the kids, especially if their digital habits are firmly entrenched.
Although it can be challenging to persuade screen-addicted kids to do some of these things, here are a few ideas to coax/motivate your kids to do more off-screen activities.
- Go outside: If possible, try to go for regular walks outside, ideally in a natural setting with plants and animals.
- Physical activity: Are there any sports opportunities opening up that your kids can potentially join in on? Does your neighbourhood have a basketball court?
- Reading books: Especially if you have screen-free time before bed, your kids may appreciate getting to stay up just a little later than usual to read books (either with you, or beside you). It’s worth a try!
- Role modelling: Model for your kids how you want them to behave with screens. If you have a rule about not having smartphones in the bedrooms for example, do your best to follow the rules as well.
- Chores: Are you thinking “ya right”! However, chores can be paired with rewards to increase motivation. The benefits of having kids do chores are undeniable.
- What are your kids passionate about? Can you find a way to incorporate a new interest into their life (e.g., volunteering at a pet shelter, joining a sports team)?
- Pledge: Have you ever heard of “Screen-Free Week“? This year “Screen-free Week” is May 2–8, 2022. During screen-free week, families and communities can come together to “pledge” to spend more time doing offline activities.
Although there are no easy answers to the challenge of screen time overuse, thinking outside the box can help kids find greater balance in their lives.
What about “mixing and matching” some of the ideas presented in this post? By having a family meeting about screen time to hear what your kids have to say, you may come up with some creative potential solutions, ideas for real life activities you can do as a family, or potentially a solution that allows them to earn screen time.
One thing is for sure, all your efforts will help kids find a more healthy balance between online and real life. Good job! You totally rock.
If any of these ideas spark creative solutions for you, please feel free to share! Here at Cyber Legends, we would love to hear about your own family’s experience.