Screen Coaching our kids needs to start at a young age and it’s vital for their development and screen time behavior that they learn the 5 E’s – Education, Empowerment, Empathy, Emotional Intelligence and Enjoyment.
Screen Coaching is a way to educate and empower our kids and young people to healthily manage their screen time. The goal is for them to learn how to balance their own screen time with other activities such as physical activity, helping out around the home, family and social time, homework, and non-screen fun! We have created the 5 E’s of Screen Coaching – Education, Empowerment, Empathy, Emotional Intelligence and Enjoyment.
You are probably most familiar with the term “coaching” from the sporting context. Sports coaches show athletes how to improve their skills, fitness, and technique. They offer guidelines, programs, and strategies for the athletes to follow. When the time comes for the athlete to perform, the coach does not perform for them – they sit back and watch, and it is the athlete who has the responsibility for his or her own performance on the day.
As a parent, it is not our role to control our kids. In fact, there is data to show that kids who are told what to do by their parents (“my house, my rules”) are the ones who rebel as they get older.
Yes, boundaries and rules are important and necessary, however, it is our role to offer them education and options as they grow – to teach them how to self-parent – so that when you’re not around they can look after themselves – just as the sporting coaches don’t take to the field themselves.
There are five key E’s to effectively Screen Coaching for your kids.
Teach your kids about the importance of balancing screen time with other activities for optimal mental and physical health – being happy and healthy.
In order to have a great life, there are certain developmental things that we need to have in childhood.
- Unstructured imaginary play helps our creative and social brains develop optimally for future learning capacity.
- Physical developmental play – climbing, running, jumping, playing with balls, and generally using our bodies. This helps so many areas of our brain development, and also includes healthy eyesight.
- Good nutrition, exercise, and getting enough sleep are also critical for our wellbeing at any age. Good quality sleep is impacted by too much screen time, and kids should stop using any device at least an hour before sleep.
It is also useful to explain to your kids that screen time releases a chemical in your brain – called Dopamine – which makes them feel really excited and want more and more. Gaming and entertainment companies spend millions of dollars on professionals to advise them exactly the right amount of dopamine “hits” to offer to make the games maximally engaging – even addictive.
If you don’t already have set routines or rules around screen time, these are a really good idea. Perhaps you’ve done this in the past, but it’s been forgotten and needs to be revisited.
Ask your kids for suggestions and input into their own screen time. Research suggests kids are far more likely to co-operate and stick with rules they have helped create.
Ask your child how long they will be on screens before they have a break. Encourage them to set a timer to remind them to have a break. Sit down with them and write up a schedule – perhaps 1 hour of screens and 2 hours doing other things, then another hour of screen time. They may prefer to use all their time in one go and then do other things for the rest of the day. Collaboration results in co-operation!
The beauty of ScreenCoach is that it can be completely customised for each individual child who can manage their screen time as it suits them.
Spend some time with your kids while they are playing with their devices. Kids are much more likely to listen to your guidance if they know you understand what they love about screen time. Empathise with them about how difficult it is to get off and transition to something else that seems so dull and boring in comparison. Share with them how you find it difficult to moderate your own screen time too at times if that is the case.
“I know it’s really fun and all your friends are playing, but it’s also really important for you to do other things.”
You can also help them to develop empathy for you as a parent, by sharing how difficult it is for you to be constantly nagging and telling them to finish up. “I don’t like it when there’s all this tension between us – how can we find a way that is easier for us both?”
Emotional awareness is critical in helping kids self-manage their screen time as they get older. Particularly when playing intense games, kids can become over-emotional, and tantrums and meltdowns can be extreme in some cases. The ideal scenario is for a child to be aware of what causes these outbursts and to prevent them.
If your child has a meltdown, comfort them and allow them the time and space to calm down.
Never try and reason or talk to your child when they are very upset. Later on, after they have calmed down, ask them what that was like for them. Chances are that they didn’t like it! Ask them what they think caused it and how we can prevent it from happening in the future. Perhaps they need to stop playing that particular game and find other games to play that are less intense. Perhaps they only play that game for a short time and then stop.
A similar process can be used for a child who is extra tired and irritable after not getting enough sleep or from spending too much time watching YouTube or whatever. Ask them how they are feeling and if they would prefer to feel happier and brighter – and what could they do differently next time. Our goal is to support kids to learn about their own screen tolerance and to understand how the use of devices impacts the way they are feeling.
Ultimately, kids (and adults!) love the enjoyment that screen time offers. It’s great to discuss with your kids exactly what they love about different aspects of screen time: the social aspects of playing and chatting with friends online; the challenging aspects of certain games; the fun of being creative and mastering new gaming skills; learning offline skills via educational content.
When devices are over-used and there is no balance, screentime becomes less enjoyable and there is more likelihood of poor mental and physical health, reduced educational outcomes and general feelings of irritation and malaise – which is no fun!
We want to encourage and maximise all the fun, joy, and benefits that come with device use when combined with a healthy balance of other activities.