With screen time at an all time high, health concerns for kids are increasing. Here are 5 steps on setting screen time rules in your household.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen screen time skyrocket, both for adults and our kids. Many children who previously had no devices are now required to have one for remote learning. Exhausted parents working from home have confessed to us that they have resorted to unlimited screen time for their kids so they can both get work done and have some much-needed downtime.
With kids schooling at home and outdoor activities cancelled, it’s been the easiest option for many. Research shows that kids screen time has increased by more than 50% in the past 18 months, and anecdotal evidence from the parents we speak to suggests it has doubled or even tripled for many kids, who may be on screens for up to 12 hours a day. However, it comes with a cost - a lot of guilt and concern from parents, and kids who have forgotten how to do anything else.
At ScreenCoach, our goal is to help families embrace all the benefits of screens and socials and gaming, while also teaching them a critical life skill of maintaining a healthy balance. Screens have literally been a lifesaver for many kids over the past 2 years, allowing them to be in contact with their school, teachers, family, and friends. They have entertained the kids, cheered them up when they needed it. They also offer many learning opportunities of The Internet.
Most parents I speak to, however, are not wanting a complete screen detox but definitely need some strategies to support their kids to spend less time on screens.
Here are my 5 step suggestions for parents desperately trying to find some healthy balance:
Step 1. Decide on a set time each week that will become a non-negotiable screen free time. Aim for a minimum of 2 hours, 3 is better - but it needs to be whatever YOU can confidently manage. Start with chatting to your spouse if you have one and listen to their suggestions about the most suitable times. It would be great to present some options to the kids and then allow them to decide, this will help them to feel they’ve had a say in the matter.
In my experience, one parent is doing the majority of the screen time management, and if you’re reading this, it’s probably you. So, whatever you decide, you are going to be the one enforcing it, so it’s critical that you’re 100% in agreement with the decision or it won’t work.
Step 2. Next, call a family meeting and tell your kids you want to talk to them about their screen time balance. At a suitable time when everyone is together - over dinner, in the car or out for a walk (if you’ve managed to get them outside!). Tell them you are going to introduce a set time of 2 or 3 hours (you have previously decided which) each week which will be screen-free time. Present your suggestions and ask them for ideas of when they think would work best for the family.
A weeknight where they are at home, from 5 - 7:30pm for instance, or a Sunday morning before 12 are great places to start. Alternatively, you might prefer to introduce a no screen rule every weeknight after 8pm, or no screens before school. As mentioned, I recommend you start with one time or set of times. The real key is that you need to be confident you can manage it - because initially, the kids will try and wear you down until you give in, and it’s critical you stay strong. Encourage input from the kids - listen to their objections and suggestions for the screen free time. Be prepared to compromise in the spirit of an agreement. And last but not least, be sympathetic (remember how much they LOVE their screentime).
Step 3. The next step in the conversation is to brainstorm a list of things the kids can do during this non-screen time. Play a board game together, play solitaire with real actual cards, read a book, do their homework, go outside, and throw a ball, cook, do their chores, draw, do a jigsaw puzzle, play with Lego, play a musical instrument.
Get out some coloured pens and paper and ask each child to make a list of their favourite non-screen activities. Younger children can draw pictures. When the screen-free time comes, they can refer to the list to help them decide what to do. You will need to guide them and support them and be prepared to spend some time with them during this time, especially at the beginning. It might even become a lovely regular family time ritual.
Step 4. Stay strong. Many kids struggle with sticking to non-screen activities which seem so boring compared to screens. This is because screen time is so engaging, anything else seems dull. However, the downtime is essential for our kids’ brains that have become overstimulated with devices. It does take time for them to adjust. So, stick to your guns, and over time your kids will learn to enjoy those activities again.
Step 5. Make it a regular routine. Sure, you’ll have to continue to enforce the routine at times, kids will no doubt want to play with their friends online at that time, tell you they NEED to watch something on YouTube or whatever. However, after some time they will stop asking. And in fact, even though they may not admit it, they will appreciate your firmness with this.
The younger you can start with these routines and set times, the better.
Set some reminders in your personal calendar and write the times up on a family planner if you have one. Remind kids the day before, and again an hour before (if possible), that this is the new planned non-screen fun time. Don’t expect them to remember because they won’t! Then give them 10 minutes to finish up what they’re doing if they are on screens and put all the devices away somewhere they can’t see them (out of sight, out of mind).
Direct them to their lists. If they nag and whine, tell them they have two choices. They can hate the experience and tell themselves that their parents are the worst in the world and that they are bored and it’s horrible. OR - they can choose to make the most of it and enjoy it as best they can.
ScreenCoach will help you implement this when it’s been released later this year, but in the meantime, you’ll have to do it manually.
By Stephanie Kakris who 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.