The age of the screen isn’t going to go away; indeed, it offers all kinds of wonderful possibilities, if it could just acquire a little more quality control. – Susan Cooper
One of the chief concerns raised by parents in my practice is about the amount of time their children spend on electronic devices. They know it’s a problem and they’re looking for practical ways to deal with it.
Despite the abundant research indicating that too much screen time is harmful to young children, as well as adults, the fact is that today’s children have grown up with an ever-evolving assortment of electronic devices which are now deeply embedded in both our personal and professional lives. Children and their parents can’t conceive of a world without them, and any attempt to interfere with their use, usually results in conflict and distress for everyone involved.
The good news is that there are effective strategies for parents to help reduce screen time and make it more manageable for the whole family. It won’t happen overnight, but the best way to see positive results is to have a good plan to begin with and stay consistent with that plan.
Plan for Success
Don’t try to go cold turkey. Don’t try to eliminate electronics altogether. That may look good on TV reality shows, but don’t expect it to work in the real world. Remember, you can’t monitor your children 24/7, but you can help them learn healthy habits to carry into the world as adults.
Create a realistic strategy to modify and reduce screen access over a period of time. Put it in writing. The key lies in finding a sustainable balance with healthy alternative activities. Set goals that are:
• Specific e.g.
• Achievable e.g.
• Meaningful e.g.
• Measurable e.g.
• Sustainable e.g.
Today’s kids are tech savvy. Educate yourself. Learn about the latest apps and the hottest social media sites. Ask them to show you “how” and “why” they use their screens. Learn “what” your kids are doing on the internet. Make it a priority to stay informed.
Be a Role Model
Set a good example. Having the TV on for background noise or scrolling on your cell phone tells your kids that they are “less important,” besides teaching them bad habits. They will be more receptive to your plan, if they see that you “get it,” and you model healthy behaviors.
Have a Family Meeting
Don’t make it a power struggle to disconnect. Empower your children to make healthy decisions. Lay out the details of your plan in a positive way. Instead of focusing on “harmful effects, or “media withdrawal,” get their input on new activities that bring the family together for learning and enjoyment. Be kind but be firm. Together, make a list of alternative activities.
Discuss with your family the hazards of the internet and excessive screen use. Schedule future meetings on a regular basis, to review the goals and the progress made so far. Be willing to make adjustments.
Unplug and Connect
Establish new routines. Set aside times to unplug. Create electronic No Zones: places where electronic screens are not permitted. No screens at any meal is often a good standard to uphold.
Combine a parking space for screen devices with a family charging station. Have a family board game night or reading night. Engage your list of alternative activities and keep adding to it.
Monitor the Monitors
Set parental controls. Don’t allow any screens in their bedroom. No TVs, cell phones, or computers. It’s impossible to monitor your child effectively when they are out of sight. Bedrooms, kitchens, and dining rooms make excellent electronic No Zones.
I cannot stress this enough. Also, stay positive and stay close. Be kind, but always stick with your limits. Don’t let the internet be a playmate or substitute teacher, and avoid giving your child extra screen time as a reward. Over time, you will see the benefits of using practical solutions to manage screen time effectively for everyone.
Wishing you the best always,
Dr. Dale Simpson (The Every Day Psychologist)
Dale Simpson, PhD, is the father of five children. As a practicing psychologist for more than 37 years, he has counseled children, teens, adults and couples and currently practices in Venice, Florida. Dr. Simpson was a cofounder and publisher of an educational magazine, wrote the Inside the Family column for the magazine, served as a featured speaker at numerous parenting and homeschool conferences, and is the publisher of Learning for Life Press.