MyScreenCoach

Stephanie Kakris

Stephanie Kakris 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.

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Time to get the kids off screens and doing more Activities

It used to be a teenage problem: There are so many reasons why you should limit your kids screen time, they could fill a book (and probably have). Across the western world, obesity is on the rise, mental health correlations between depression, anxiety and amount of screen time are strong.

There are so many reasons why you should limit your kids screen time, they could fill a book (and probably have). Across the western world, obesity is on the rise, mental health correlations between depression, anxiety and amount of screen time are strong. Optometrists are seeing a pandemic of short-sightedness in children. Physios and chiros are seeing postural issues arise in young children. Teachers are pulling their hair out trying to engage over-stimulated kids. And experienced PE teachers are horrified at the lack of physical capability of some kids who can’t do the most basic gross motor skills such as throw or catch a ball, jump a skipping rope, or run more than 20 meters.

The good news is, no matter how bad those screen time habits have become, they can be paired back. The human body and brain are incredibly flexible, and it is never too late to start encouraging a healthier life-tech balance.

So, where to start? Make a time to sit down with your kids and have a heart-to-heart chat to them. Tell them that it’s time to start new routines around their screen time so that they have a better balance. If you’re really brave, a complete week of detox from screens could be an option. It’s hard for the first couple of days but then you won’t recognise your kids! For most people, however, a gradual approach works really well.

Before we go any further, know this. When having these conversations with your kids, it is critical that you involve the kids in the discussion and that you listen to their objections and ideas. They are much more likely to co-operate if you incorporate their suggestions. Be prepared to compromise.

There are so many reasons why you should limit your kids screen time, they could fill a book (and probably have). Across the western world, obesity is on the rise, mental health correlations between depression, anxiety and amount of screen time are strong. Optometrists are seeing a pandemic of short-sightedness in children. Physios and chiros are seeing postural issues arise in young children. Teachers are pulling their hair out trying to engage over-stimulated kids. And experienced PE teachers are horrified at the lack of physical capability of some kids who can’t do the most basic gross motor skills such as throw or catch a ball, jump a skipping rope, or run more than 20 meters.

The good news is, no matter how bad those screen time habits have become, they can be paired back. The human body and brain are incredibly flexible, and it is never too late to start encouraging a healthier life-tech balance.

So, where to start? Make a time to sit down with your kids and have a heart-to-heart chat to them. Tell them that it’s time to start new routines around their screen time so that they have a better balance. If you’re really brave, a complete week of detox from screens could be an option. It’s hard for the first couple of days but then you won’t recognise your kids! For most people, however, a gradual approach works really well.

Before we go any further, know this. When having these conversations with your kids, it is critical that you involve the kids in the discussion and that you listen to their objections and ideas. They are much more likely to co-operate if you incorporate their suggestions. Be prepared to compromise. 

So, what does “better balance” even mean?

Non-screen-activities that all kids should be doing every day fall into the following categories:

Physical Activity a healthy amount of physical activity (minimum 1 hour per day active time including some time outside), such as kicking a ball around, riding a scooter or bike, swimming, skipping.

Creative Pursuits such as Lego, writing, playing an instrument, role playing, drawing, dress-ups.

Helping Around The House, age-appropriate chores, and responsibilities so kids are contributing to the running of the home. Family time, such as having dinner together.

Brainstorm activities that come under each category and write everything down to stick up on your fridge so that when their screen time is up, they won’t be constantly nagging you because they don’t know what to do with themselves.

HERE ARE SOME FUN ACTIVITY IDEAS

Children Aged 2-8 Years Old Children Aged 8-12 Years Old
Jump on the trampoline Go for a bike ride
Dance to their favourite 3 songs Go rollerblading or skateboarding
Play outside with toys or sandpit Practice a sport
Play with a big ball Walk to school
Listen to an audiobook for 15 mins Walk the dog
Read or look through a picture book Listen to an audiobook or podcast
Play a musical instrument Read a book or magazine
Drawing or painting Play a musical instrument
Play a board or card game Play a board game
Jigsaw puzzle Do homework
Dress ups Dancing and singing
Blocks or Lego Bake cupcakes
Water play Play with a younger sibling
Singing nursery rhymes Jigsaw puzzle
Play-Doh Arts and crafts
Play with pets Play with a friend

Next, come up with a routine that you can stick to. Again, ask for their input. What time should screens be put away at night? See what they suggest – you might be surprised! Then write it down.

Here’s what your routines might look like:

    • No screens after 8pm.
    • Sunday morning before 2pm, family time, no screens.
    • On any given day, 1 hour of screen time and then 1 hour of non-screen activity before they can go back on.
    • No screens at the dinner table.

Ask your kids for ideas about how to manage this, write it down and get them to sign it. Then offer a reward at the end of 2 weeks for sticking to this – a family movie or other outing, a new game they want, whatever you think would be a great incentive.

Screen Coaching and why kids need it

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.
Education
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.

Empowerment
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.

Empathy
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 Intelligence
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.

Enjoyment
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.

How to do a complete screen detox and keep your sanity intact!

Is it time for your kids to have a screen detox? If you’re willing to give it a try, we’ve detailed how you can do it and keep your sanity, just taking screens away will certainly cause a tech tantrum.

 

You know that too much screen time is making your child irritable, moody, and unable to concentrate on other tasks. You’re feeling guilty and worried about how screens are impacting their health and development. It may be time for a complete break before re-introducing with more strict rules. Many parents are considering doing a complete screen detox – but are scared about how they’ll manage it and whether it will be worth the effort.

For the sake of full disclosure, we’ve only ever done a complete screen detox with my son once when he was about 8. It was for a week. After the second day, I recall him saying that he could literally feel his brain unwinding from the intensity of the games he had been playing. We are super fortunate in that our kids seem to be able to tolerate a fair amount of screen time without being rude or having meltdowns. When I can see we need to peg it back though, our kids are pretty good at co-operating as they know they feel better with a healthy balance. And we’re lucky to be using ScreenCoach to help manage this.

However, many kids aren’t able to tolerate more than a very limited amount of screen time and a complete detox is a great way to reset their brains. Here are some commonly asked questions and my answers to reassure you that a couple of weeks (or months!) screen free will be worth it.

How long until they stop asking for their devices?
It depends on their age and the story you tell them. I am someone who likes to be completely honest with my kids, however, I have heard many parents unplug the TV or put the iPad away and tell their little ones that it is broken. I can definitely see the argument for that explanation to make the adjustment easier. With older kids, I think it is helpful to explain exactly why you’re putting the screens away and be prepared to stay strong when they beg for them to be returned. It is important to keep them out of sight though to not add to the temptation, the same way you wouldn’t keep chocolate in the house if you’re trying to stay off it.

From the families I have spoken to, the first 2 to 3 days is the hardest and then the kids stop asking as they develop new off-screen habits.

How can I make the transition easiest on them?
The best advice is to be prepared with plenty of activities outside of the home, especially in those first two or three days. Take the kids on outings and plan things they can do when you get home. Spend time with them and arrange screen free play dates with friends in the short term as they adjust. If they are older, they can make a list of things they can do to keep themselves occupied. Then gradually allow them to be bored and become creative. Imaginary and creative, unstructured play is critical for healthy brain development. And this can only happen in the absence of other stimuli.

How do you deal with the crying?
Keeping the kids engaged in activities helps enormously. If your kids do cry or get angry and demand the screen, be patient and empathetic and allow them to express themselves. Comfort them and allow them the time they need, then gently redirect them to something else they love to do. Being physically active helps emotions move through the body effectively.

How long until their behaviour improves?
Parents report a marked change in kids’ behaviour around 2-3 days after taking the screens away, sometimes even sooner. One lady said her kids became significantly more calm, patient, and helpful after just two days. Talk to your kids about how they’re feeling and help them to realise the benefits of the exercise.

How and when should I reintroduce screens?
Kids need time to realise they can thrive without screens, and I would recommend at least 2 weeks screen free before considering introducing them again with strict time limits. A month is even better, and you might consider not introducing them again at all for toddlers or younger children. Then introduce them slowly with strict limits using a tool like ScreenCoach to help keep them on track so they don’t end up creeping into every aspect of your life again.

Good luck with it and let us know how you go – come and join our FB group ‘Family Screen Time Strategies’ or support and to share your experience to encourage others.

Are you a parent who’s addicted to your phone?

If you’re a parent who is addicted to your phone you could be affecting your relationship with your kids and additionally teaching them bad habits.

“Help! I’m addicted to my phone and it’s damaging my relationship with my kids.”

Here at ScreenCoach, we are developing a product to help kids manage their screen time, but we often hear people ask, “Does it work with adults too?” The answer is yes, absolutely!

So many of us are obsessed with our phones! For me personally, I have most notifications on my phone turned off. However, the temptation to check my phone is endless… What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow? Do I have any meetings this afternoon? What’s on TV tonight? Did someone just message me? Let me take a photo of that! We need bananas – better add that to the shopping list app… it goes on and on…

Not only does it impact our ability to be present with our kids (and others), many parents are also concerned about their role modelling. After all, kids do as we do, not as we say.

Screens have literally taken over our lives and impacted our ability to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. Johann Hari discusses this in his book “Stolen Focus – Why You Can’t Pay Attention”. He says, “Your attention didn’t collapse. It was stolen.”

So how do we get it back?

In addition to installing ScreenCoach when it becomes available, here are a few tips to help you to put your phone away and be more connected with your kids.

The first thing is to acknowledge that the urge to pick up your phone is a habit that will probably take a bit of time to break. Our brains have become accustomed to constantly shifting from one task to another, and it is uncomfortable to stay with one thing! But with persistence and practice you can do it.

Have some rules that you stick to each day. For example, no phone at the dinner table or while driving, while spending 1-1 time with your child reading to them or putting them to bed. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask your child to remind you if you forget or stray from the rules.

Next, consider turning off all notifications and alerts on your phone except the ones that are necessary. There’s nothing more distracting than having your phone pinging and dinging and lighting up constantly, it’s very hard to ignore. It would be akin to a chocolate cake calling out, “eat me, eat me”! If you have anyone in your life who expects you to be on call for them 24/7, let them know that when you’re with your kids you will be putting your phone away and will be in touch with them when you pick it up again. Set firm boundaries for work and make it clear that you will not be checking emails and messages outside work hours unless there are exceptional circumstances. Another suggestion is to delete the social media apps off your phone to avoid the temptation of constantly checking them. Set aside a half hour or an hour at night when the kids are in bed to check your socials on your computer. If you’ve done these things and are still tempted to pick up your phone, during certain times of the day, put your phone away so it’s out of sight – in another room or a drawer. To use the chocolate cake analogy again, keeping your phone handy and trying not to look at it is like having a delicious chocolate cake on your kitchen counter and trying not to eat it – it’s a constant temptation that makes things more difficult!

Remember that it will take some time to retrain your brain so you might like to start slow with decoupling from your phone – perhaps half an hour or an hour at first and then and build it up. Good luck!

A final note: If you find parenting difficult and triggering, and recognise that you are using your phone as a coping mechanism, you are not alone! There is nothing wrong with you. The adage, “it takes a village to raise a child” is true, and yet so many parents, particularly mothers, are doing it alone – often while working as well! – and it can be really tough. Seek help and support where possible, from friends and family or professional help if necessary. Your kids will benefit from it – and you will also be thankful when your kids grow up that they know how to interact with the real world outside of a device!

Steph

Stephanie Kakris 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. Find out more at www.myscreencoach.com

By Stephanie Kakris 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. Find out more at www.myscreencoach.com

Managing Screen Time on Holidays

With extra time at home over the school holidays, how do you plan on managing the kids screentime? Here are our thoughts on navigating this.

Picture this . . . You’ve rented a holiday home with another family for a much-needed holiday. The sun is shining, the beach is just up the road. Instead of enjoying the surroundings, the 5 kids just want to sit around the house and play on their phones or laptops. Sometimes they play together, but they often play separately too. You suggest that they put the games away and head down the beach. All that you hear is whining and “the beach is boring, why would we want to do that?” “There’s nothing to do down there.” You wonder why you even bothered going away and spending the money. You allow that to go on for a while… and then you put your foot down and confiscate all devices. The kids whine even more now. “I’m bored … we have nothing to do”. You respond, “I didn’t pay all this money for us to have a holiday and for you to sit on your devices all day!”

“Well, we didn’t ask you to,” they reply.

Argh!

The key to managing screen time over the holidays is open and honest communication with your kids… And planning ahead. After they’ve finished school and had a couple of days R&R, sit down, and have a chat with them. Explain to them that they won’t be spending all day every day on their devices and ask them to come up with a list of screen free things they can do. You may be happy to allow them to use their screens if they are using a YouTube video to follow a recipe to bake something or following an art tutorial to do a painting.

Make sure you include things you can do as a family, things they can do on their own, and things they could invite friends to do from creative activities, physical activity, chores, etc. The best plan is to come up with a routine which you can all stick to, for example, they can be on screens every morning until 11 and then again from 7:30 – 9pm. Whatever suits your family best. It’s important to ask the kids for their input and have them feel like they’re setting the rules rather than you. This will help greatly with their willingness to co-operate.

If you’re going on holiday, ask them what they would like to do. Many Australians holiday at the beach, so plan ahead by borrowing or buying a simple beach cricket set, a boogie board, skimming balls, bucket, and spade for younger kids. For indoor activities, borrow a large jigsaw that everyone can help with, board games, chess, books, activity books, card games. Again, ask them what they would like to bring – if they choose, they are more likely to embrace it. Get the kids involved in making the snacks and meals and clearing up. Get them into the habit of chatting during mealtime. Click here to read our list of conversation starters at the dinner table. https://www.myscreencoach.com/post/10-conversation-starters-for-the-dinner-table/

It’s important that you have a holiday too, so if allowing the kids to be on screens each morning while you have some rest and quiet time for yourself works for you, then do that.

However, if you’re really brave, you might like to leave all the devices at home. The kids will most likely protest and beg you to bring them, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly the kids will adjust and make their own fun. The kids we spoke to when designing ScreenCoach recognised how dependent they were on their devices and were actually grateful when their parents took them away, even though it was a tough adjustment at first. The kids may even thank you for being strong at the end of the holiday as they realise how much fun is to be had without the constant allure of screens!

New capital raise is now open

Following the recent announcement of $670,000 investment from the Accelerate Commercialisation (AC) grant . ScreenCoach has launched an immediate capital raise. They are looking to raise $1.5 million in both equity and SAFE notes over the next 3 months.

 

The federal government’s investment is the second into ScreenCoach. Their initial support was for $330,000 in 2020. This second tranche of funding was driven by the successful Alpha trials conducted in late 2020- as result from the first tranche support. They particularly liked the improvements ScreenCoach delivers to the family dynamic and the positive behaviour change in children.

Founders and current investors also love that the $1,000,000 support from the federal government. It is not only a strong vote of confidence but comes with no equity and no payback. This funding round will see the completion of Beta trials in the next couple of months and take the product to launch in late 2021.

The company has strategically aligned itself with strong industry B2B partners. Letters of intent have been received and conversations are progressing with potential distributors and affiliates such as Harvey Norman, NiB, Belong, Garmin, public/private schools, the law courts (for separated families) and other government departments.

The AC grant also endorses ScreenCoach’s ESIC status, giving investors 20% tax rebate and capital gains tax exemption.

For more details about becoming involved in this exciting investment round click here or contact Gary at gary@myscreencoach.com

ScreenCoach secures $1 million in government backed funding

 

The latest AUD $671,500 earned from a second round of funding sees federal government support of ScreenCoach tip AUD $1 million, which will go towards rapid commercialisation of the game-changing app for families.

 

ScreenCoach, a Australian startup that helps families manage their childrens’ device screen time, has raised AUD $671,500 through the Australian Government’s ‘Accelerating Commercialisation’ grant, bringing the startups’ total government support to AUD $1 million.

The new funding, dollar-matched by local and international investment, will be used to drive ScreenCoach towards rapid commercialisation and scale, with a private Beta launch kicking off in July and an anticipated nationwide app store launch in December.

The ScreenCoach app’s simple, gamified reward system sees children and teens earn their screen time on devices once they complete pre-set activities such as homework, housework and hobbies.

By letting children self-manage their own tasks, the app alleviates a common challenge in modern parenting: getting kids’ eyes unglued from screens and focussed on other activities without having to constantly ask. Childrens’ time spent on devices has become a pressing health concern of national and global importance, with related health concerns ranging from increasing obesity from sedentary lifestyles, increased mental illness directly linked with technology overuse and a startling emergence of ‘digital dementia’ in children.

For parents and Co-Founders, Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Kakris, Head of Technology Peter Kakris and Business Development Manager Gary Borham, the recent government funding supports ScreenCoach’s extensive market research along with the passion for restoring harmony in families whose relationships are strained because of the constant battles around screen time.

“With personal experience of the challenges of managing our own kids’ screen time, we wanted to create a product that the whole family will love, while also setting children up for success as young adults in a device-oriented society”, said Stephanie, who holds a Masters in Psychology and is a published parenting author.

“We’re thrilled with this second round of funding support, which will help us finalise the design of the app and upgrade hardware for cross-device support, so we can get it into the hands of families that need it in Australia and around the world.”

The Accelerating Commercialisation grant, provides SMBs, entrepreneurs and researchers with funding with the aim to strengthen, grow, innovate and commercialise Australian business both nationally and globally.

The highly competitive grant process puts each project through an independent, merit based assessment for the chance to be awarded up to $1 million in matched funding, meaning the business must contribute an equal amount to the project.

Just 530 of the grants have been awarded between the program’s inception in 2014 and 2021, providing $260 million to support companies to commercialise their innovative products.

Beta trials

Families participating in the Beta trials will receive a free 6 month paid subscription and hardware for ScreenCoach when it is ready for sale.

Families can apply for the Beta trials here

Sandy Bolton gets behind local startups

Noosa MP Sandy Bolton speaks about commitment to start-up businesses in the local region.

It’s a global problem.

Parents right across the world face the same challenge to get kids active, to avoid a range of health issues – but also to stop the never-ending arguing and fighting over time spent on computers, games, phones and other screen devices.

There are systems such as activity trackers to control time allowed, but there has never been a system that answers the problem using the language of the kids themselves – until now.

ScreenCoach – is right here in Noosa, and it will hit the global market in 2021.

It’s the brainchild of Gary Borham, who relocated to Noosa from Melbourne 18 months ago, and who is extensively trialling his creation out of the Startup Precinct in Lanyana Way, Noosa Junction.

“My wife said she would only buy an activity tracker if it turned off all the other devices in this house,” Gary said.

“I thought, what a great idea; imagine how much movement a kid does if it equals a certain amount of time. Once the time elapses, devices get blocked and allows kids to get outside and more active.”

Gary said ScreenCoach was like an electronic version of a star system on the fridge door, “but what’s clever is with our system if your kid empties the dishwasher for example, they earn (say) five minutes (of screen time) – but if they empty it without being nagged to do it they might get 10 or 20 minutes”.

He described life for parents as “Groundhog Day which actually wears them down: whose shoes are these; whose turn is it to empty the dishwasher; have you done your piano practice, cleaned your room”.

“We’ve spoken to a family in Noosa; they have to put the gaming console and modem under their mattress. Not their bed – their mattress – when they go to bed,” he said.

“If it’s underneath the bed the kids will come and get it. It’s addiction.”

The system allocates rewards of time on-screen, and teaches kids there is reward and bonuses for co-operating in household chores or taking exercise for example.

“It’s also ‘game-ified’ so as you go up to different levels, you earn more for the same activities. So today’s ‘500 steps’ might earn six minutes, but after a few weeks it could be more.

“This is speaking to kids in their language.”

Gary said he was impressed by Noosa MP Sandy Bolton’s commitment to start-up businesses in the local region.

“I met Sandy at another launch. Talking to her I said start-ups were a fledgling industry here,” he said.

“She said ‘not at all’. And I’ve since found that’s true.

“I’ve done some work with the guys at the Peregian Hub, and we’ve got these guys here. There is a community of people I’ve met here who’ve got companies in Silicon Valley who live right here in Noosa.

“There is this community here – Sandy’s a connector – an open door of support and a step towards meeting the right people.”

There’s plenty of interest in ScreenCoach, Gary said, including a once-sceptical friend and self-made IT genius who retired in his mid-30s, Pete Kakris, who has become a partner; they’ve both sunk $50,000 into the project.

“Some friends, family and fans have put in another $200,000, he said.

“The Federal Government has given us $300,000 in Business Entrepreneurs funding, and that’s now been dollar-matched so we’ve raised another $300,000 – so from a little idea 18 months ago we’ve put together $900,000.”

The devices are being made “round the corner here in Noosa”, and all the support services are locally sourced, Gary said.

Tech giants Sony and Samsung have provided advice and are looking closely at it, he added.

Another round of fundraising is underway ahead of the 2021 launch, with $120,000 already raised and Gary said investors – which now includes the Startup Precinct’s owner – can visit ScreenCoach’s website (www.myscreencoach.com) for more information.

“And parents are invited to take trials – they can (also) get details from the website,” he said.

What is Dopamine and how does it keep us stuck on our screens?

We have heard of screen obsession and addiction, the struggle to put down the device is incredibly challenging. Dopamine plays a huge rule in that, here’s why.

Why are screens so engaging and why are kids so bored when they get off? We all know the scenario – put the iPad and PlayStation or Xbox away for a weekend and the kids are restless, bored, and continually annoy their parents to give the screens back. Many parents have stopped bothering because it’s all too hard to get them off screens for any length of time.

There is a chemical reason for this, and it closely resembles the withdrawal symptoms experienced by drug users, albeit in a milder form. The neurotransmitter called Dopamine plays a significant part in this.

Dopamine is a chemical released in our brain whenever we are rewarded from doing an activity, and it is also released in anticipation of a reward. It makes us feel good – some refer to it as the “pleasure chemical.” From an evolutionary perspective, dopamine release motivates us to do more of those things that get us a reward. Babies who are learning to walk see the positive reaction on their carer’s faces when they start to stand and try and take a step. Dopamine is released, they feel good, and they are motivated to do it again and again. The same happens with finding and eating food, having sex, achieving goals, and other things that we depend on for our survival.

It won’t surprise you to know that video games, social media apps and TV shows are specifically designed to maximise user enjoyment. The mere promise of rewards and achievement in a game causes a release of dopamine from the brain which gives us a pleasurable feeling. This keeps kids (and many adults) going back for more and more … and more. The designers of games know exactly how challenging to make the game – it needs to be moderately challenging (not too easy or too difficult) for maximum dopamine impact. Many games use inbuilt artificial intelligence to quickly learn the child’s mastery of the game and to alter the difficulty in order to fit the needs of the child. Similarly, social media apps trigger the reward centre when users see pleasant pictures, and receive a like, comment or message. Some kids even have 3 screens going at once to maximise the excitement!

These screen time dopamine “hits” may seem to mirror the rewards a child might obtain in real life away from screens. For example, participating in a pleasurable activity such as listening to your favourite music, eating some delicious food, exercising, getting a warm smile or a hug from a significant person, the satisfaction of learning something new or mastering a skill. In moderation, this is true.

But here’s where the problem lies: recent research has shown that when the dopamine “hits” are increased beyond normal levels, the amount of dopamine required to have the same “feel good” experience becomes higher and higher. In other words, when kids play a lot of video games or have a lot of screen time, they are continuously receiving dopamine “hits” at a greater rate than they would be in a non-screen environment. In order to maintain this level of feeling good, they crave more and more rewards via this level of screen time stimulation.

Once they get to this point, most parents are so fed up with the kid being glued to screens at the expense of virtually all else, they ban the games or remove the devices completely. The child then has a substantial dopamine drop, feels depressed, anxious, restless, bored, and totally unmotivated, because no off-screen activity can give him or her that same feeling. This is the point at which parents often relent and allow the kids unlimited access to screens once again. This is why screen coaching and screen time parental control is so important in your household.

Bear in mind that it’s tough for your child too – they are not simply nagging you or being manipulative or super annoying for the sake of it – they are craving that chemical hit that video games offer them. If your child is old enough, I have shared this article with my son, and he thrived on the understanding that this information about dopamine gave him. Lots of empathy and understanding and love is required to help your child navigate this time. Plenty of attention, playing with them, helping them to think of alternative fun things to do is also super helpful.

After a few days of detoxing from screens, when your child seems normal again, re-introduce screens in moderation. ScreenCoach can help support your child to moderate their screen time to a couple of hours of gaming per day, mixed with plenty of non-screen fun. This will help to keep the child’s dopamine tolerance at a reasonable level where they can enjoy a healthy balance of life, including time at school.

*If you suspect your child has a clinical addiction to gaming or other mental health issue, please seek support of a health professional before introducing moderation to screens. A great starting resource to see if your child is addicted can be found here: https://unpluggedpsychologist.com/what-are-the-warning-signs/

The Benefits of Self-Learning Activities with Screen Time

There are many positives to kids being on their screens, such as ‘active and creative’ screen time. Kids can learn a lot by watching videos, here are a few examples of positive screen time interactions.

Last night, my 12-year-old daughter helped me prepare a Thai chicken and vegetable stir fry with rice noodles for dinner. It was absolutely delicious. Earlier that day, she had seen a TikToK video of a woman in fast motion making the dish. She showed me the video and asked if we could make it, and we followed the recipe which was in the comments – with a few minor alterations to use what we had in the pantry. On other occasions she has shown me various cooking techniques that I now use in the kitchen.

Screen time generally gets a bad rap from adults, but there are so many benefits and so much to be learned if the kids are allowed to learn and explore in their own time. As discussed in a previous blog post, not all screen time is created equal. Too much “Passive” screen time can have negative effects on children. However, if kids are encouraged to use their screen time in a positive meaningful way, where they are learning and active, their lives can be greatly enhanced.

After studying children aged 4 to 11 on their use of screen time, a University of Michigan study found that “how children use the devices, not how much time they spend on them, is the strongest predictor of emotional or social problems connected with screen addiction.” As long as we ensure that our kids are actively using their screens, we can most likely avoid the physical and mental health problems that have been associated with passive screen use.

Apart from new recipes and cooking techniques, my daughter has taught herself all manner of things from watching YouTube and TikTok. A few years ago, she started her own YouTube channel and taught herself how to do video editing in Camtasia, professional video editing software. With my encouragement and guidance, she ran a business for a short while doing video editing jobs for entrepreneurs in my network. She loves art and drawing and has taught herself to draw and paint all number of things. She wanted to buy herself a drawing tablet – she did a whole heap of research and found the best value one on offer, saved up her money and went ahead to purchase it.

I am a big fan of all the “Got Talent” shows. Season 16 of America’s Got Talent has just started airing in Australia and I thoroughly enjoyed the audition of 16-year-old Aiden – who blew the judges away with an exceptional aerial act. He has been practicing his craft for just two years and has been completely self-taught from YouTube and using some sheets and other simple props around the house. He started with bed sheets at his grandmother’s house tied to a tree in her yard. He grew up feeling like he never belonged at school, struggled to read, and had low self-esteem. Thanks to YouTube, he has found his passion and a promising career.

https://youtu.be/0YdUPL3E2L8

Watch the video

Kids are capable of so much more than we allow or believe when they are given the opportunity to delve deeply in an area of interest.

One of our ScreenCoach beta trial members sums up her situation so perfectly.

“I have 3 children under 10 – but primarily my concern is my 8-year-old boy who is very tech tuned – he has been obsessed with anything electronic since he could stand up. He used an iPad to configure our home lighting system when he just turned 7 – he is very savvy – he is very interested in how everything works – and would spend hours watching YouTube videos on how to program things and how to connect devices, if we let him. As he gets older, the battle is harder – this app would be right up his alley. I’d love to harness his engineering mind while balancing the other aspects of kid life!”

These types of positive outcomes available to kids who have unfettered access to screens are to be encouraged. As long as they are well balanced and paired with other responsibilities in life such as family time and helping out around the home – which is exactly what ScreenCoach has been designed for.

How to win the screen time argument with your kids

It’s a constant argument in most households, the battle to get kids off their screens. So how do you win the screen time argument? Here are our top tips.

When we interviewed kids and young people as part of our market research for the development of ScreenCoach, they admitted that they spent too much time on screens but loved it and found it really hard to moderate themselves. They wished they had more self-control to have more balance.

Chances are, however, if you’re ready to implement ScreenCoach to rein in that screen time, your kids are probably going have some objections! How you handle these objections is critical. Research has shown that an overall “we’re working together to solve this problem” approach rather than “I’m the parent and I make all the rules” is a far more effective way to get kids to co-operate *

Keys to any successful negotiation is to listen to any objection and make it clear that you understand and are sympathetic. Be willing to negotiate and compromise. If you can work together to make decisions moving forward, your children are far more likely to co-operate, and you will reach the home harmony you are craving for.

So, to support you, we’ve put together 5 of the most common objections your kids may raise about limiting screen time.

Objection

You can’t make me!! (aka “You can’t tell me what to do”, “You aren’t the boss of me!”)

Answer

As your parents, we take our responsibility to care for you seriously. However, we would rather not tell you what to do! It’s really important for a healthy life that you spend enough time exercising, playing non-screen games, helping around the house, and doing your homework, and we want to help you with that. We have looked at various screen time management options and we have chosen ScreenCoach because you get to choose what you do and how much screen time you have and when.

Objection

“But all my friends are allowed to play whenever they want!” (Until late at night, or after school or all weekend or whatever the case may be).

Answer

Acknowledge that it is tough when it seems like your friends are allowed to have more screen time than you. It might be helpful to do a fact check with them on that – ask them if there are any kids that are not allowed screen time during the week or who are only allowed a small amount of time in total. Explain that you are looking after their wellbeing and long-term health – a bit like if a child was allowed to have junk food every night, it would seem unfair that your parents make you eat vegetables, but actually it is better for you in the long run. Ask your child what time would be reasonable for them to get off and consider a compromise you are both willing to stick to.

Objection

“But I need to use my computer to do schoolwork”

Answer

ScreenCoach has modes that you can set up so that when your child is doing schoolwork on a laptop or PC, they can access “schoolwork mode” which won’t allow them to access apps such as Netflix – and isn’t included in the daily allowable fun screen time.

Objection

“But I promised my friend I would play with her straight after school today!” (Or this weekend or every minute of every day!) 😉

Answer

There are a couple of ways you can approach this one. You could grant your child an exception because they promised their friend and you don’t want to let their friend down, while being clear that they must not promise this again if they know that is an off-screen time, because next time you’ll say no. Otherwise, simply ask them to message their friend saying that they forgot they needed to do their homework and other things after school and they can play later or on the weekend.

Objection

How come we’re not allowed screens but you’re always on your phone or laptop or can watch TV?

Answer

Most parents will be able to answer honestly that they are using their phone and laptop for work. But this may be an opportunity for you to examine your own screen time, and if possible, agree that you also would benefit from some non-screen time and show your kids that you’re in this with them. In our modern world where we can work from anywhere, be mindful of how often you are working at home when your kids are around, especially after hours. Or perhaps you are addicted to social media. What example is this setting them for their own future? Kids are more likely to do as you do, not as you say. If you yourself are not getting enough exercise, and other recreational non-screen time, perhaps they could help you change this and you can do some things together. I am sure there are many kids who would prefer quality time with their parents rather than screen time.

Everything seems boring when screens are turned off and many of our children have forgotten the art of simple creative play which is crucial to social, emotional, and physical development in young children. Parents are busier than ever, and screens are a convenient way of keeping the kids entertained and quiet while you get stuff done. We get it! Many adults are also consumed by screens and have lost the impetus to do anything else.

But if we don’t find a healthy balance of screen time, it can cause a variety of problems for your children.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6323136/

There are 6 types of screen time usage

Not all screen time falls under the one category, in-fact there are 6 types of screen time usage and as a parent it’s important to know the difference between each.

As a parent, you probably know that not all screen time is created equal, and here at ScreenCoach, we acknowledge the many benefits of screen time, as long as it’s part of a balanced life.

Screen time can be categorised into 6 types

Educational screen time: This is what a lot of children across Australia are doing at the moment due to lockdowns and home-schooling. They are using the laptop or iPad for schoolwork, watching YouTube videos that teach you how to do something like cook or craft.

Passive screen time: This is when their eyes can become glued to the screen by watching movies, TV shows, binging platforms, and YouTube for entertainment consistently.

Active screen time: This is the best type of screen time as it has the body moving, where you dance along with a video or follow a yoga class for example.

Interactive screen time: Playing video games or other gaming such as Minecraft.

Social screen time: One of the most important types of screen time in terms of what our children use frequently like talking to friends on social media or platforms such as snapchat.

Creation screen time: Although screen time is involved, getting our kids to be creative is still a positive use of screentime, creating a movie, website, or a piece of art on their device.

Deciding how much screen time is right for your child needs to be a personal choice and a continuous conversation with your kids. Some children seem to be able to tolerate more screen time than others. There are more and more reports coming out with the damaging affects of too much screen time, from behavioral issues to eye problems.

We recommend monitoring your child and taking note of what screen time works best for them and in what quantities. Talk to them about it! If they are having tech tantrums when asked to get off their screens, wait for them to calm down and have a discussion with them about how they felt and what caused the issue. Ask them what they think you both need to do about it. Talking to your child and asking them to come up with solutions – rather than simply telling them what to do – is the best way to foster co-operation.

When we look at the 6 different screen time categories, it’s important to understand that many teenagers use their laptops for more than two hours per day at school, it allows for no home recreational screen time, which here at ScreenCoach we feel is unrealistic and unreasonable for most young people.

The Australian Government Health Department makes the following recommendations with regards to children and screen time.

  • Children under 2 – no screen time
  • Children aged 2 – 5 years no more than 1 hour of screen time per day
  • Children 6 – 17 no more than 2 hours of screen time per day.

Screen time is a big part of your child’s life and in fairness, they’ve been forced into using devices at school but it’s now up to you as a family to work out a balance of screen time and green time.

Reference article:

https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/gug-indig-hb~inactivitiy

Focus on what is happening during off-screen time too!

It’s great that you got your kids off their screens, but it’s just as important to now monitor their off-screen time too. Digital technology and kids expert Dr Kristy Goodwin explains why.

With such a focus on what our kids are doing on their screens, maybe it’s time to focus on what they are doing when they are off their screens too? You may have been vigilant with monitoring your child’s screen time but as soon as that golden moment happens of the screens going down . . . What is your child doing?

Digital technology and kids expert Dr Kristy Goodwin says the problem lies less with the actual time on screens – and more with what the children are NOT doing due to so much screen time. Rather than measuring their screen time, she suggests it is imperative to make sure that kids are doing the following:

Having enough exercise

At least an hour of physical activity and outdoor time each day. In a study done by the ABS in 2011-12, less than one-quarter (23%) of children aged 5–14 undertook the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day… goodness only knows what that number is since Covid and constant lockdowns.

Getting enough sleep

Turning screens off at least an hour before bedtime is important. The Australian Department of Health recommends between 9-11 hours of sleep for children (aged 5-13 years) and between 8-10 hours of sleep for adolescents (aged 14-17 years).

Getting real-life human interaction

Face-to face interaction with their friends and family where possible. Ironically the majority of this is done virtually, but even talking to a neighbour over the fence will have a positive impact.

Contributing to the household chores and family time

This is where ScreenCoach will benefit the off-screen time, they can earn rewards by doing chores to utilize when they are back on their screens. Family bonding is vital, and this is up to all family members to initiate and coordinate.

Reading and doing their homework

Sitting on their bed in a relaxed frame of mind, reading a hard copy book will do them wonders. Or putting pencil to paper by doing homework or even writing in a journal.

Other non-screen creative play

This could be something fun such as dress-ups, Lego, role playing, cards or board games, art, or music. It’s important to stimulate their creativity and interest in different ways.

We know parents are busier than normal at the moment but creating a simple list of off-screen activities and sticking it on the fridge is important in helping your child find a screen time balance and fuel their body with important activities to keep them moving and stimulated.

Contribution and comment by Dr Kristy Goodwin https://drkristygoodwin.com/

Reference articles

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/risk-factors/insufficient-physical-activity/contents/insufficient-physical-activity

https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/2021/06/10/promoting-adequate-sleep-young-people#:~:text=The%20Australian%20Department%20of%20Health,up%20times%20are%20also%20recommended.

5 Steps on setting screen time rules with your children

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.

Why Kids Should Get Paid to Do Chores.By Alexia – Aged 12

Editor’s Note: Alexia wrote this piece as an English task for school. As a parent, I’m not a big fan of the idea of paying kids for chores – they should contribute because they are a part of the family, right? However, reading Alexia’s arguments has made me revisit my opinion – I wonder if it will do the same for you?

12 year old Alexia writes a compelling homework article arguing why kids should get paid to do chores

It is debated whether or not children should be paid for doing chores. It is being discussed because at this point in time children are growing older and starting to go into adulthood and they need to learn the responsibilities of money. I very much believe children should get paid for doing chores. My arguments are: Children need to learn how to save money, Kids don’t have to beg for money and it is a good reason to get kids off screens.

Argument 1

Firstly, Children need to learn how to save money because it is a great skill in life. As a fact: out of 22 kids in 7A only 4 kids actually get paid for doing chores which we definitely need to change but as another fact, half of the class doesn’t do set chores at all so this is outrageous (as Miss Purcell said). The more kids who are able to learn the ways of money for the future the better. From personal experience I don’t do set chores but I do help as much as I can around the house and I do get paid but not much which isn’t bad at all and I still learn the benefits of saving money.

Argument 2

Secondly, if kids help out at the house and get paid they can use their own money that they worked hard to earn to buy the thing they want. We have to stop kids from begging their parents saying “I want this, can I get that”. According to the survey I did on the 20 people in my class, 16 people have asked their parents to buy them something. If they had been earning money themselves their parents wouldn’t have to give in to the begging of the children. Parents all have something they might want I am sure, so they work to earn the money to get it themselves. Their kids could have that same experience just if they pay them for hard work.

Argument 3

Thirdly, when do you think a kid would ever get off that screen and come and have some family time? Never, and if you want to fix that my suggestion is to pay the kids for doing chores how does that help you ask. Kids will spend so much time in front of a screen these days. From a kids perspective if there was a toy or a video game I wanted I would take any chance to get money even if it meant doing the hardest thing like getting off my screen. According to a parents article I found online, 60% of people are paying their kids to do chores and it very much gets them off their screens.

When kids come out to do chores it does 3 things 1 it helps parents not have to do chores themselves, 2 it gets kids off their devices, 3 the parents can actually talk to their kid because they are always in their room on their devices.

Rebuttal

Some people may believe that kids should do chores not just to get paid but to help the family, most kids don’t care. If you think of a family, the parents mainly do all the work cleaning, washing clothes etc and the kids get to live in paradise. We can’t let it go on like that, they really need to help and if you want kids to actually help with household chores just give them some money for doing chores. It doesn’t have to be a lot, even a very small amount, but it can influence them to just help out once in a while. If you want parents to have to argue with their kids about doing chores well then go ahead because I see no point in doing that. All I say and I hope you agree is to pay kids for doing chores.

Conclusion

To sum up, Children should get paid for doing chores! Why? Children should learn how to save money, kids don’t have to beg their parents for money and It’s a good reason to get kids off their screens. Now if you tell me that children should be set up for life by learning money I definitely do not want to see your child’s future!

What do you & your kids think?

Come and join in the conversation in our Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/screencoach

12 tips to survive the school holidays while working from home

GUEST BLOG POST – By Ali Bengough With this “new normal” we have with more parents working from home, balancing kids and work in the same space and time can be a challenge, right?

Picture this:

You are in your office working and from the other room you hear, “STOP IT! I’m telling on you!” at a volume only discernible by dogs.

Or you’re focusing on writing a report and in the space of 5 minutes you have 3 different children whinging for your attention.

Do these, or similar, scenarios sound familiar?

Try these tips to support you in lowering the stress and increasing the connection with your kids. In no particular order:

  1. Recognise and accept your work productivity will automatically be lower when the kids are around. Let’s face facts. Children require attention and connection, and expecting them to let you work uninterrupted is unrealistic and you’re setting yourself up for a whole lot of stress if you expect to put in a full work day as if you were in the office.
  2. Keep the big picture at the forefront of your mind. What values do you have around this situation? What is important to you? Family, financial stability, connection, self-care, your children’s development? I invite you to make a list of these important things and rank them in order of importance. Then, in the moment, you can make a choice about what you prioritise (e.g., breaking up arguments, playing with your kids or completing that report).
  3. Carve out some time each day to engage in some kind of self-care. When you take time for yourself, you approach the work/children interaction in a calmer and more connected state, which will benefit everyone.
  4. Create daily timetables with flexibility built in. Book in the essential work-related meetings and put some things in place for interruptions, but otherwise allow yourself to put it aside and come back to it later if it’s needed. Consider getting up a couple of hours early to work while the kids are still sleeping, for example.
  5. Make a list of acceptable activities for your children to do independently with some alternative options up your sleeve. Consider getting them involved in making a box (a shoe box is fine), which holds their activities. When they come to you complaining of boredom, invite and encourage them to go to their box. Decorate the box together and give it an appropriate name, such as “Emily’s play box”, or “Sebastian’s Jedi box”.
  6. Call in the cavalry. You don’t need to do this on your own. So, if you have access to a support network, phone a friend to vent your angst. Ask for a play date, get the grandparents to babysit, do a sleepover with one of their friends. This is especially helpful when you have a work deadline looming.
  7. Plan your day with children’s play time up first. When you give your kids quality time with you first, they are more likely to then play independently and leave you in peace to work, because their connection bucket has been filled.
  8. Create a “shit” plan. That is, when everything goes to shit and there’s no saving the day, what will you do? Bring the mattresses into the lounge and set up a movie marathon? Ditch the work and go to the park? Choose something that will help to shake off all the pent-up energy and soothe the soul.
  9. Spend time outdoors in green space. Regular time outdoors will support you all to shake off the angst, ground and soothe.
  10. Create some movement time every day. Go for a family bike ride. Jump on the trampoline. Go to the park and run around. Play a game of footy. Build in that time for exercise and consider doing it a few times a day. Exercise will help everyone use up all the built-up energy and create room for quiet and rest. It’s a useful tool to use when things are becoming a bit volatile.
  11. Be kind to yourselves. As someone who understands what it’s like doing this juggling act, cut yourself some slack and allow some grace. You don’t have to be perfect at it, especially if working from home is new for you.
  12. Remember, a difficult day does not mean you’ve ruined your opportunity to work or to create/maintain a great relationship with your kids. Tomorrow is a new day. Go back to the big picture vision and your values, take a breath (or 100), and start again.

About Ali

Trained in Education and Psychology, Ali Bengough has more than 15 years’ experience working holistically with families. With immense amounts of compassion and heart, her specialty is to emotionally support family members who are caring for loved ones with a disability. Ali is highly intuitive and brings unique insight and expertise in supporting sensitive souls to navigate difficult life situations and experiences.

Ali can be contacted via her Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/alijaynecoach/

Is your teen/tween getting enough sleep?

Sleep is essential for good physical and mental health. Not getting enough sleep can cause a number of issues, including a lowered immune system, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and clumsiness. There are plenty more effects of lack of sleep, but you get the idea.

In young people, ongoing sleep deprivation is a huge contributor to a number of problems, perhaps one of the most important of which is their performance at (and even just their experience of) school. Australian Government health departments recommend young people aged 12–18 years get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night. However, most teens only get around 6.5–7.5 hours. There are a number of things that could be causing this, so it’s important to work out what those things are and address them to support your child in getting sufficient sleep.

What can happen without enough sleep?

Lack of sleep (especially chronic sleep deprivation) can lead to all sorts of issues. Your child may be experiencing some of these. The consequences of these may include:

  • Mood swings, including aggressive behaviours such as lashing out at others
  • Lack of concentration, making focus-reliant activities difficult (i.e. attention in class)
  • Reduced ability to solve problems or make decisions
  • Bingeing on junk food to increase their energy, because they end up with a lack of the latter
  • Impaired ability to use equipment (not great in woodworking class) or drive a car
  • Increased chances of skin issues, such as acne
  • Decreased immunity, resulting in more frequent illness

Things that affect sleep quality

Some of the key factors influencing sleep length and quality for tweens and teens are:

Screen time

Use of screen-based devices, such as smart phones or tablets, is one of the problems most spoken about today. Not only do devices engage teens and tweens so much that they don’t want to get off them, they actually stimulate the brain in such a way that it makes it difficult to physically fall asleep immediately after using them. A study by VIC Health in association with the Sleep Health Foundation found that teenagers who stopped using their smart phones 1 hour prior to bedtime slept an average of 21 EXTRA minutes each night, or an additional 1 hour and 45 minutes per school week.

Hormones

Pre-teen and teenaged children experience hormonal changes that effectively alter their “body clock” – they ‘secrete melatonin later at night than they did in earlier childhood, which affects their circadian rhythms’ (Raising Children Network). This means they may not feel sleep at their usual bedtime and want to sleep later; as a result, they need to wake up later the next morning. The problem with this, is that school commitments (and sometimes comments implying laziness about “sleeping in”) don’t make it easy to get enough sleep within the boundaries of their bodies’ needs.

Schedule overloading

Extracurricular activities are necessary for stimulating young people’s brains and keep them active and fit. We all know there can be too much of a good thing, though, and this is often the case with teens’/tweens’ after-school and weekend schedules. Their time is jam-packed with stuff to do, that they have little time to rest and adopt good sleep habits.

Exposure to light

Light stimulates the brain and makes it want to stay awake by reducing the amount of the chemical melatonin the brain creates, which is crucial for sleep. In particular, any device emitting blue light will wake up the brain.

Sleep disorders

It isn’t uncommon for children and teenagers to suffer from sleep disorders. If your chid has sleep apnoea, for example, this is going to affect their amount and quality of sleep.

Supporting a healthy sleep routine

So, what can we do to help our kids get the amount of sleep they need? It’s not a quick fix, but it is a fairly simple one. If it’s not caused by a sleep disorder, then the problem is a combination of lifestyle and environmental factors.

Here are some of our suggestions for helping your teen or tween create a good sleep routine:

Sleep length and timing

Researchers have found that sleepiness at school depended more on WHEN teens slept rather than how many hours they slept (Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services). Remember that biological clock we were talking about? So, while teens do need 8-10 hours sleep, they also need it to align with what is comfortable for their bodies. Also, help them avoid long naps by setting a timer to 20 minutes – enough time to recharge but not enough to affect their night-time sleep!

Wake-up times

There’s nothing you can do about school times; so, letting your kids sleep in on the weekend isn’t a bad idea. You can never truly make up for lost sleep, but chronic sleep deprivation does leave a “backlog” of sleep that will eventually take its toll (perhaps unexpectedly, which isn’t great if they’re driving or doing something else equally risky). However, keeping wake-up times on the weekend within a couple of hours of school day wake-up times can help regulate your kids’ sleep clocks.

Environmental factors

Turn out the lights an hour before bed. Use blue light filters on all devices where possible, as this will reduce the stimulant effect on the brain. Encourage your kids to stop using their screen-based devices an hour before bed, to give their brains a chance to wind down. Help them come up with a relaxing way to end the day, perhaps suggesting some reading, sleep-friendly music, or stretching exercises.

There are many more things you can do to support your teens and tweens in getting the right amount of sleep, and there are plenty of resources out there dedicated to helping parents with just that. We hope that our suggestions help you get started on those lifestyle and environmental changes that will help your kids rest well and blossom.

REFERENCES

https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/health-in-your-teens-sleep

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/teenagers-and-sleep

The Side-Effects of Teenage Sleepiness
https://raisingchildren.net.au/teens/healthy-lifestyle/sleep/sleep-teens https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/teens-and-sleep

What are smart phones doing to our teens?

We have all sighed in frustration as our teens have trudged into our homes, eyes glued to their screens. We’ve heard the jokes and seen the memes about teens communicating in grunts, caveman style. But what is it that smart phones are really doing to our teenagers?

Research on screen time in general for young people shows that there are potentially adverse effects, including negative impacts on mental health, behavioural issues, and links to obesity, to name a few (Caroli, Argentieri, Cardone, & Masi, 2004; Laurson, Lee, Gentile, Walsh, & Eisenmann, 2014). Of course, there are also benefits to using screens, when used in line with health recommendations. But there has been an increasing amount of interest in the impacts of smart phone use among teens and its links to their behaviour and overall mental health.

Smart phones could be linked to anxiety and addictive behaviours

A report for The Guardian says that 1 in every 4 children or young people have “problematic smart phone use”, which could be linked to poor mental health. It isn’t so much about the amount of time they spend on screens; it is more about their relationship with their device. The behaviour is considered somewhat addictive, according to Dr Nicola Kalk of King’s College London, who co-authored a study published in the BMC Psychiatry journal.

The fact that over 23% of the 42,000 teens and young adults surveyed across 41 studies feel anxiety when their phones are not on hand, or favouring spending time on their phones at the expense of other activities and responsibilities, is concerning. Studies in America have found (after tracking close to 2,600 teenagers for 2 years) that those who use smart phones heavily are twice as likely to show symptoms of ADHD (Association of American Universities, 2018).

Evidence is not overwhelming

But are smart phones really all that bad? Greater Good Magazine contributor Candice Odgers suggests that these concerns are unfounded. Drawing on experience from a long career as a psychologist, she clarifies that – while 1 in 5 children below 18 years of age suffers from poor mental health (even prior to the age of smart phones) – the current generation are also some of the smartest and most connected young people. ‘There is no good evidence yet that smartphone or social media use is driving these increases. When I looked past the headlines and at the data, I usually found no association between time spent online and mental health for most teens. When there was a link, it was tiny, with an unclear relationship between cause and effect’, she says.

Black Dog Institute (an organisation dedicated to mental health awareness and support) even suggests that there are times when connection via screens (and, in particular, smart phones) is not only beneficial but necessary to support young people in dealing with drastic changes in their routines and environments.

So, what’s the verdict?

In short, there’s not yet enough research to support either opinion. There are obviously arguments for both extremes, with nothing concrete to aid us in our decision making around this issue. As parents, we will need to read up on the potential benefits and negative impacts and make our own decisions. Most likely, it will be a matter of finding our place on the spectrum of potential impacts and going with what works for our own kids and families.

REFERENCES

https://growingupinaustralia.gov.au/research-findings/annual-statistical-report-2015/australian-childrens-screen-time-and-participation-extracurricular

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/nov/29/one-in-four-children-have-problematic-smartphone-use

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/are_smartphones_bad_for_teen_mental_health

https://www.aau.edu/research-scholarship/featured-research-topics/smartphone-use-linked-behavioral-problems-kids

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/news/screen-time-can-help-with-behavioural-changes-in-kids-during-isolation/

Should homework count towards screen time?

For many of us, it doesn’t seem that long ago that homework was written by hand or tapped out on a typewriter.

Even when computers were launched into the mainstream, they weren’t common features in households for a long time. Most activity that used computers revolved around learning to use the device itself, such as typing, coding, and word processing. Computers started to offer time benefits for getting homework and similar tasks done, for those who were lucky to have access to them.

Similarly, mobile phones were just that. They were for making calls, end of story. Now we run businesses – and practically our entire lives – from smart phones and mobile devices. Our kids do their homework on screen-based devices, and even if parents wanted to enforce screen time limits in line with health recommendations, it’s hard to balance that with the requirements from many schools for children to use online platforms to submit homework and assignments.

With this in mind, how should parents address screen time limits with respect to what the screen is being used for?

A screen is a screen

The general recommendation is a maximum of 2 hours of screen time each day for kids aged 2–18 years (some recommendations are incremental according to age), with children under 2 years recommended to have no screen time at all. Given the increase in amounts of homework as kids age, sticking to screen time limits means a reduction in recreational screen-based activities.

So, should homework count as screen time or be deducted from the amount of “available” screen time?

Director of Education at MediaSmarts, Matthew Johnson, says ‘A screen is a screen. Even if you’re using it for good reason, it does count as time when you’re not being active’. If you look at screen time from a health perspective, the limit is about the amount of time spent doing sedentary activities (which can be linked to obesity in young people) rather than the reasons those devices are being used. Doing homework is generally a sedentary activity.

Online homework

Homework is increasingly being done online. The Atlantic reported in 2018 that a federal study found 70% of American teachers regularly assigned homework requiring a computer and internet connection at home, a statistic that increased to 90% for high school. Whether you see this as a problem or not, it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.

Brown University research shows that children who spend more time using screen-based devices for recreational activities are less likely to finish homework tasks and have less interest in learning generally (Boston Globe, 2016). It seems logical to suggest that screen limits incorporate homework time together with recreational time to avoid encouraging excess use of screen-based devices.

However, more recent studies conducted by JAMA Pediatrics shows that the overall amount of screen time is not as much to blame as the type of usage of screen-based technology (Time.com, 2019). For example, the study found that watching TV (on average more than 2 hours daily for teens aged 15–19 years) was linked with lower language and maths test scores, with teenagers experiencing this at a higher rate than younger children.

So, what’s the verdict?

Like with all aspects of parenting, we believe that screen use is something each family will make their own decisions on. We believe in balance, so somewhere between what your family needs and what is recommended by health authorities is probably a good idea. Rather than focus on how much time your kids spend on screen-based devices, focus on making screen time an intentional activity. If they know that their allotted screen time (whether it strictly abides by health recommendations or has a bit of wiggle room) includes homework, then they may just be more selective about what they do with the rest of their screen time.

REFERENCES

https://globalnews.ca/news/1497272/how-to-balance-school-demands-with-screen-time-limits/

Online Homework Conflicts with Parental Limits on Kids’ Screen Time
https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2016/10/26/kids-who-spend-more-time-screens-less-likely-finish-homework-take-initiative-researchers-say/Sbba5ZFFJ7B0uUZzn7yEBL/story.html https://time.com/5684830/screen-time-school-performance/

10 outdoor activities for teens and tweens

It’s no secret that kids these days spend a fairly large chunk of their time using screens.

Some of that time may be as a result of schooling requirements (many schools offer online student hubs or require online homework submission), and some of it will inevitably be recreational (watching television, playing games, or socialising). Research conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (2016) shows that most Australian children are spending more than the recommended limit of 2 hours daily using screens for their entertainment, particularly between the ages of 12 and 13.

Screen time and health concerns

Associate Professor Ben Edwards, manager of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children recommends offering children the option to participate in physical activities that align with their interests to reduce the amount of time they spend on screens. This is a handy way of implementing limits around children’s screen usage, without coming across simply as a strict parent. Usage of devices can be correlated with increasing statistics in obesity among children, as well as other health problems, as reported by an Australian Child Health Poll conducted by The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Given this trend, it’s a good idea to get our kids outside and engaged in activities that stimulate them in other ways.

Outdoor alternatives to screen time

But, when your kids are spending hours glued to their screens watching Stranger Things or building virtual creations on Minecraft, what can you suggest instead? The key thing to consider is what they will enjoy. Think about what their interests are – what they are using their screens for – and offer opportunities to do things outdoors that relate to those interests.

Here are our top ten suggestions for activities tweens and teens can do outdoors:

  1. Riding a bike: Aside from the fact that bike riding is actual exercise, there’s just something freeing about gliding down a slope with the wind in your face. Letting your child choose a cool bike or new helmet may sweeten the deal.
  2. Nature trail/bushwalking: Walking uses all the muscles in your body in an entirely different way to cycling or other forms of exercise. If a regular walk around the block doesn’t appeal to your kids, take them on a bushwalk along a nature trail and take turns spotting tree/plant species or wildlife.
  3. Bird or bug watching: If your child is interested in animals, arming them with a magnifying glass or a pair of binoculars will have them spending hours studying insects or birds out in nature.
  4. Astronomy: Star gazing is perhaps one of the most calming outdoor activities. Basic telescopes aren’t very expensive and are powerful enough to view details on the moon or very bright stars or planets. This activity is best done in areas with minimal light pollution, so you can see more (whether with a telescope or the naked eye).
  5. Ball games: Whether it’s soccer, rugby, volleyball, or even dodgeball, outdoor ball games are a great combination or exercise, fun, and teamwork.
  6. Gardening: It may sound dull but working with dirt and plants is nourishing for the soul. Show your kids how to plant seeds and grow vegetables that can later form part of family meals.
  7. Going to the beach: Surfing, swimming, sandcastle building, shell seeking, fishing… There are just so many possibilities for stimulation and activity.
  8. Paintball: A great option for teens, especially, which provides opportunities for teamwork, physical activity, and friendly competition. If it’s raining, laser tag is a good indoor alternative.
  9. Fruit picking: Visit your local farm (or take a road trip!) and go fruit picking with your kids. It’s a fun activity you can do together, that involves walking and conversation, as well as providing them with an opportunity to contribute to family meals.
  10. Outdoor chores: Yes, chores. Kids will learn a sense of responsibility and get some exercise and fresh air when engaging in activities such as mowing the lawn, walking the dog, weeding the garden, or washing the car.

There are so many more possibilities, this is just the tip of the iceberg. And remember to get them on board by appealing to their natural interests and asking them what they’d like to do!

Why routines are good for teens

We’ve all heard the benefits of creating structure and routine for toddlers and young children. But did you know routines benefit teenagers, too?

Of course, there will always be differences in how each individual adopts and adapts to routines in their life, but in general it is going to offer predictability that will make things flow smoothly.

Benefits of routines for teenagers

The Australian Government’s Learning Potential website outlines some key benefits of routines for teens, including:

  • Offering a sense of safety and security within their homes
  • Strengthening relationships when created to include family time
  • Supporting their body’s body clock when focused around a regular bedtime
  • Enhancing their sense of empowerment and responsibility by incorporating important tasks within their routine (ie, chores)
  • Helping them develop basic time management and work skills

A study conducted by the University of Georgia and published in November 2018 in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that implementing routines (and, thereby, predictability) can help teenagers cultivate success later in life. An article for JDNews.com reports that teens whose families relied on routines within the home drank less alcohol, had greater self-control and emotional wellbeing, and experienced less stress.

3 tips for getting teens to accept new routines

  1. Ownership is key. Let them have a say in how the routine plays out to get their buy-in and accept responsibility for sticking to the routine they have agreed to.
  2. Create a visual representation of the routine, to encourage your teen to remember what they have taken on. It may also help to add tasks to a family calendar or planner, as well as somehow add it to their phone or computer, perhaps as a graphic or through a reminder app.
  3. Explain to your teen WHY they need a routine. You may get some push back when you float the idea of basically scheduling their day. If they understand that it will help make their day (and life) easier, you may be surprised at how quickly they jump on board!

Creating a good routine

A good routine should span the entire day. Wake-up and going-to-bed times should be the same every weekday, with a focus on getting their things done and to school on time daily. Weekends can be a bit lax, but it’s a good idea to still have some sort of routine for weekends, as well.

Make sure there is time for study and homework – with a focus on assignment deadlines and exam dates – as well as time to chill. Knowing there is time off feels like a reward to your teen, so they will be more invested in adhering to the routine.

Screen time becomes much easier to manage when it is part of an established routine. If your teen needs to use their mobile device or computer for homework, that time is incorporated into their daily or weekly schedule. Recreational time using their device for games or social media, or watching TV, should also form part of the routine. Once they have had their allotted screen time, it’s time for another activity.

Remember, creating a routine isn’t the same as implementing and STICKING TO one. A routine needs to be habitual to be effective. We want to create a new “good habit” that will offer all the benefits we’ve talked about so far. Being adaptable and changing the “criteria” as your teen grows is key to maintaining a positive perception of the routine, according to respected Australian parenting website Raising Children Network.

Family routines

So far, we’ve discussed the benefits of routines for your teenagers, as well as the benefits these offer. But, what about the rest of the family?

Like any routine, it is most easily accepted as “normal” if everyone is doing it. If someone is unwell, giving them chicken broth while the rest of the family enjoys a cheesy pizza isn’t all that encouraging. Take a look at the family as a holistic unit and look at where you can set up some routines for other family members, as well as the family as a whole.

Ideas for things to include in a family routine:

  • Family mealtimes, including cooking
  • Regular family activities, such as a weekly board game night or walking the dog together every evening
  • Regular get-togethers with extended family and/or family friends
  • Participation in community events, such as festivals or markets
  • Dedicated time with each parent, so that each child feels valued for who they are

If every family member thinks of themselves as one part of a whole, you’ll soon have all your kids (and yourselves) working together like clockwork!

REFERENCES

https://www.learningpotential.gov.au/articles/routines-and-teens-how-you-can-help#:~:text=Why%20routines%20are%20good%20for%20teens&text=having%20a%20regular%20bedtime%20can,develop%20a%20sense%20of%20responsibility

https://raisingchildren.net.au/grown-ups/family-life/routines-rituals-relationships/family-routines

https://www.jdnews.com/news/20190315/study-finds-routines-help-teens-health-well-being

How to reconnect with your kids

Connection is an important factor in a balanced relationship with your children and is essential to their overall wellbeing.

It’s encouraging to know how many little things we can do as parents can have a lasting effect on the relationships our kids form in their youth and later in life, as well as indirectly influence the choices they make. That’s not to say we are actively trying to control their choices; just nurture them while we can so that they grow into empowered adults who have felt their parents’ love and true connection within relationships.

A CDC study by the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at the benefits experienced by teens with strong connections to family and friends and found that they had better mental health. They are also 66% less likely to engage in risky behaviour or substance abuse (both as a teenager and as an adult). It’s pretty clear that connection makes a huge difference in the paths they choose.

It’s about what they need

As kids grow from tweens to teens and into adults, they are experiencing hormonal changes and new brain development activity within their bodies. If you can learn to understand that they are not in control a lot of the time and that they need some distance from you, it will help strengthen your connection to your kids. When they just want to hang out in their room watching TV or bouncing a basketball against the wall; when they walk past you with a grunt of acknowledgement as they tap away on their smartphone. That’s not to say there may not be anything else going on beneath that behaviour, but it is important that parents understand how to reach out to their kids and create a connection instead of a sense of control that scares them off.

Time is what they crave

Honestly, the most important thing you can do is spend time with your kids, no matter what age they are. As parents, we balance competing responsibilities, often with restrictive timeframes attached. Time is precious because we never seem to have enough of it. So, giving your children time shows them exactly how much you mean to them.

Here are some suggestions for spending quality time with your kids:

  • Play something together: Yes, they may be a bit old for LEGO (or are they?), but you can grab a boardgame or card game they enjoy and play that. Don’t know how to play Magic: The Gathering? Learn!
  • Go for walks: This could be a family activity on specific days of the week; or it could be something more involved, such as a hike or bushwalk. Spending time in nature helps ground us, which is essential if we are to communicate well and fully engage with our children.
  • Eat food: The sharing of meals has been a way to bring people together since the beginning of time. Making sure to eat at least one meal together daily (as a non-negotiable ritual) provides space for conservation and connection.
  • One-on-one time: If you have more than one child, you and they may benefit from individual pockets of time that are dedicated to each of them. This means they get your undivided attention for that period of time – they don’t have to share you with their siblings, like they usually do. Use this time to connect through conversation and through activities that you both can enjoy together.

Communication is key

Communication is the other major factor for connection, as you can probably already see from the examples above. When we are not communicating (or not communicating well), we are disengaging from the connectedness of our relationships. Communication is key for fostering connection.

Here are some ways to enhance your communication with your teens/tweens:

  • Have conversations: And we don’t mean those deep and meaningful ones that teens/tweens (and sometimes even adults!) like to avoid. Talk about fun things, silly things, profound things – anything that provides an opportunity for your kids to open up and engage in that connection with you. Check out our top 10 conversation starters for the dinner table here (of course, you can use them any time!).
  • Make it a habit: Carve out time specifically to talk to your teens/tweens about their individual concerns. Let’s call it a debrief – a chance for them to unload after a gruelling day at school, or for you to address important issues with them and get their input.

These are just some of our suggestions on ways you can engage with your kids – there are many, many more. Perhaps it’s as simple as checking in with your teen and asking them what makes them feel connected. Is it putting your phone on silent at the dinner table, so they don’t feel like you’re still working when you’re at home? Is it letting them have their own space so that they can unwind or process their day before engaging in family togetherness? Whatever it is, remember it is as much about what they need (perhaps more) than your desire to create connection.

REFERENCES

https://yourteenmag.com/family-life/communication/how-to-connect-with-teens

https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/youth-connectedness-important-protective-factor-for-health-well-being.htm

https://www.heysigmund.com/proven-ways-to-strengthen-the-connection-with-your-teen/

Modelling desired behaviour around screen time for children

As a parent you are probably at least somewhat concerned about the amount of time your children are spending on screens.

As a parent you are probably at least somewhat concerned about the amount of time your children are spending on screens. After all, that’s why you’re here, reading this. But have you considered how much time you are spending on your devices? The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens report (2016) shows that parents of American teens and tweens use screens for over 9 hours a day, with only 18% of that time dedicated to work activities.

American author Robert Fulghum once said: ‘Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you’. Children copy what they see their role models doing. Regardless of their age, your behaviour can influence theirs. It’s a well-known social learning theory known as behaviour modelling, popularised by Albert Bandura in the 1960s and 1970s. Based on earlier behaviourist learning theories, this one looks at how people learn through observation, and how the cognitive functions are involved in the learning process. In Bandura’s words, ‘[m]ost human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.’

Setting the right example

Why is the way kids learn important? Because it gives parents an insight into some of the factors contributing to the behaviour and habits children adopt. Spending time on screens is appealing to kids because of the engaging stimulus of colour and sound (for younger children) and the social aspects and escapism offered by social media and gaming/television, respectively (for older children). But, as parents, we have the responsibility of determining what a healthy amount of screen time looks like. Not only that, we need to set the example we want to see.

Think back to behaviour modelling: if you are spending a lot of time on your screens, what you are saying to your children is that it is okay to do the same. You are showing them it is okay. Regardless of whether you’re using your device for work or entertainment, showing your children that there are times when screens are used and times when they are switched off to allow for other activities is a key factor in shifting their perspective on the usage of devices. Luckily, 78% of American parents believe they are embodying good habits around screen time for their children (Common Sense Media 2016).

Balancing role modelling with other responsibilities

You need to get your work done – we understand. Sometimes, it’s not possible to reduce the amount of screen time we expose ourselves to when we have responsibilities to fulfill. In these cases, look at how this can be managed in a way that still sends a positive and educational message to your children about how we use devices.

Ask yourself:

  1. What is the device being used for?
  2. How long does it need to be used for? (Does it really need to be an hour or is 30 minutes enough time to complete the task?)
  3. How can I explain that fulfilling my work responsibilities is not granting myself an exception to family rules around screen time?
  4. How can I explain to my child the difference between using their devices for homework versus entertainment?

There is no cut-and-paste, one-size-fits all approach to this. It will be different for every family, and it is up to you as a parent to read up on the recommendations, the pros and cons of screen time, and decide what is right for your family. But if there’s anything we absolutely stand behind is that modelling the behaviour you’d like to see from your children – actually creating a space where there is a clear distinction between screen time and non-screen time – is a good place to start.

References

https://www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html

https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-0-387-79061-9_307

https://www.communicationtheory.org/modelling-theory/

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/plugged-in-parents-of-tweens-and-teens-2016-infographic

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/common-sense-media-census-measures-plugged-in-parents

 

10 conversation starters for the dinner table

If you’re the parent of a teenager (or even a pre-teen or “tween”), you probably don’t find it super easy to talk to your child. All you want is to engage with them and to learn more about them as they grow. But with all the hormones wreaking havoc in their minds and bodies, often it’s an accomplishment to get little more than a grunt out of them – or a full-blown lash-out – isn’t it?

Why are teens so hard to talk to?

Much like a toddler, a teenager wants to explore their independence. They want to try new things and make their own decisions. Also like a toddler, a teenager doesn’t really know how to regulate their emotions. Any question that feels like even a minor invasion of privacy may result in a response from your teen or tween that suggests they feel interrogated.

Renowned author Gretchen Ruben is quoted as saying ‘Sometimes kids need us to be the coach, offering advice on what to do and how to proceed. But other times? Our kids are making their own decisions and choices, and what they need is for us to be their cheerleaders on the sidelines, wishing them well and preparing to offer comfort and support should things go pear-shaped.’ It’s an important distinction for us to make, as parents – to know the right time to ask which sort of question. For tweens in particular, says Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting, ‘the biggest danger…is trying to parent through power instead of through relationship, thus eroding their bond and losing their influence on their child as she moves into the teen years.’ So, it’s a delicate balance that involves trust and patience.

Of course, screens are in the mix, adding their own challenges. Kids are glued to their screens quite often these days – whether for educational or recreational purposes – and this adds an additional layer parents have the reach through to connect with their children.

Questions that open conversations

In an article for the Fuller Youth Institute, clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Oh Cha reflects on her interactions with her teenage daughter. She poses an interesting question: ‘What percentage of our family’s conversations is about getting to know each other more?’ What if – instead of seeking to draw out information – you asked questions that gave your children a chance to volunteer information by feeling empowered and heard?

Beyond Blue suggests a number of practical tips for engaging in effective communication with your children, such as making sure you listen without judgment, asking questions designed to make your kids feel safe and not like you’re trying to extract details out of them, showing affection and support, and respecting their privacy.

Going one step further, we’d like to share our top ten prompts for starting fluid and fruitful conversations at the family dinner table:

  1. What was your favourite part of today?
  2. If you had to choose a favourite word, which one would it be and why?
  3. If you could travel to one place anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  4. What is your favourite thing we do as a family?
  5. What new skill would you like to learn and why?
  6. If you could go back in time to speak with just one person, who would it be and why?
  7. What three words best describe your day?
  8. What are your favourite and least favourite features?
  9. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and what kind of house would you have?
  10. What do you like most about the other members of our family?

As you can see, this mix of questions allows family members to use their imaginations to dream up their ideal homes and travel locations, as well as provide insights into insecurities and fears that may need addressing. Remember to listen without judging the response, and be ready with support and a hug, if needed!

https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/conversations-between-parents-and-teenagers
https://childmind.org/article/tips-communicating-with-teen/
https://www.hcf.com.au/health-agenda/work-life/family/talking-to-teenagers-parents-tips
https://healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au/age-13/raising-resilient-young-people/communicating-with-your-teenager
https://www.ahaparenting.com/Ages-stages/tweens

How screen time is impacting kids’ extracurricular activities

How do we know exactly how screen time is impacting on our kids and their extracurricular activities?

It’s impossible to deny that devices play an enormous role in our lives. Everywhere you look, you see someone typing away, swiping left, or plugged into some sort of device. Screen time is hard to get away from, both out of necessity and habit. We know screen time isn’t necessarily the best thing for children; we know there are guidelines and recommendations around its use.

Limiting screen time for kids

The 2015 annual statistical report for the Growing up in Australia study on Australian children cites work by Houghton et al. (2015) that explores the benefits of mobile devices, including the enhancement of learning activities and avenues for creative expression. Inevitably, games and television form an integral part of activities for children of all ages in general, with 96% of children under the age of 15 in Australia having access to the internet (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014), allowing them participation on social media or online gaming. However, there is also an abundance of data that looks at the detrimental effects of overuse of screen time (Caroli, Argentieri, Cardone, & Masi, 2004; Laurson, Lee, Gentile, Walsh, & Eisenmann, 2014).

Two surveys conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (in 2012 and 2014) found that TV (including DVDs) time was more common than other recreational activities throughout children’s leisure time. For parents, this is concerning if we want our children to grow and develop with a sense of balance and with positive, healthy habits. Many institutions recommend placing limits on screen time usage, with the exact amount varying by age and location. In general, a maximum of 2 hours per day is recommended (including TV, gaming, homework, etc) for kids aged between 5 and 12, though children in Australian schools are recorded (72%; Houghton et al., 2015) as exceeding this limit daily on recreational activities alone. In Australia and the US, the recommendations also suggest limiting access to screens, such as keeping them out of kids’ bedrooms, as well as role modelling good habits around screen time.

The impact of screen time on extracurricular activities

While it is true that some usage of devices is dedicated to educational pursuits and some to social interaction, it is important not to equate this with other activities, such as physical activity or communication with other people.

The impact of screen time on kids will depend on varying factors, and it seems that kids’ gender is an uncertain one. Some studies say boys are more likely to exceed the 2-hour daily limit, while other studies say the same of girls. It is likely that the results depend on how screen time was measured and categorised – ie, whether it was for homework, social media, gaming, etc. Either way, the more time kids are spending on screens, the less time they are spending on other worthwhile pursuits.

We don’t look at screen time as something that needs to be eliminated completely. Rather, we believe it is something that can be optimised so that kids get what they need from their devices, while also contributing to their family and household, and participating in extracurricular activities. Children benefit from physical activity, reading, playing board games, engaging with other people, gardening, chores – all things that offer developmental benefits for children (Simoncini & Caltabiano, 2012). There are so many (age-appropriate) things to fit into a child’s day; the longer they spend staring at a screen, the more they miss out on the world around them.

Many studies have also found a correlation between the amount of screen time and health issues (Caroli et al., 2004; Fairclough, Boddy, Hackett, & Stratton, 2009; Hancox & Poulton, 2005; Laurson et al., 2014). Other studies have not found strong evidence that screen time is linked to health concerns (De Jong et al., 2013; Melkevik et al., 2010).

In general, kids spend less time on screens during the week (ie, on school days) and more on the weekends when their schedules are not so rigorous. Time on screens for tweens seemed to peak with activities such as watching TV and playing games (interestingly, similar to preschool aged children), but time spent doing homework increased with age, also.

Another useful observation is that the more screens in the home, the more time kids seem to spend watching them. This is another example of how modelling the behaviour you want to see in your children can really make a difference.

The 2015 annual statistical report for the Growing up in Australia study on Australian children found that the proportion of children that spent more than the 2-hour recommended limit on screens was significantly lower in test groups where children played team sports or participated in an art or music activity, as well as for girls who participated in individual sports (such as dance or gymnastics). Of course, there are slight variations depending on what type of screen time we are talking about (homework vs gaming vs television), but the consensus is that more physical activity means less screen time. This, in turn, means overall a more positive outcome for our kids (Simoncini & Caltabiano, 2012).

Sedentary behaviour and childhood obesity

An obvious and valid concern is the link between childhood obesity and being inactive (Caroli et al., 2004; Fairclough et al., 2009; Hancox & Poulton, 2005; Hardy, Dobbins, Denney-Wilson, Okely, & Booth, 2009; Laurson et al., 2014). It is interesting to note that the Growing up in Australia study found that tweens enjoy physical activity at an above average rate, though they still spent a fair amount of time on screens. One suggestion is that a family’s views on appropriate screen usage is a contributing factor to the amount of screen time children experience, regardless of their interest in other, more active pursuits. As parents, we have a very real responsibility and opportunity to teach our children the importance of balance, as well as the benefits of play and social activities.

The study also found that children who enjoyed their physical activities were less likely to spend more than the recommended 2 hours daily using screens because they prefer to do something else. Similarly, children who felt they were fit and had lots of energy had the same behaviour with regards to screens. This is telling us that there is hope. And that it need not necessarily be the challenge that we think it is.

While the findings are not conclusive nor exhaustive, it seems that participation in extracurricular activities can help reduce children’s allotted screen time, whether by preference or simply through purposeful scheduling. Given the increase in the use of laptops and other devices in schoolwork, it is wise to consider the ways in which at-home screen time can be managed for the wellbeing of our children.

Technology and the future

Realistically, we can’t completely remove screens from everyday life. Technology is part of the fabric of society, and our children will need to be well-versed in its use as they grow and enter further study and careers (Bavelier et al., 2010).

So, the question becomes: How can we ensure that our children’s screen time is beneficial to their development and wellbeing?

Recreation is, after all, a contributor to a person’s sense of feeling balanced and well. Educational activities are important and, in many cases, must be managed through digital platforms. Whether we stick to the 2-hour recommended daily limit or not, the key consideration must always be what benefits our children.

How can screen time be managed in such a way that allows kids to get what they need from their devices without sacrificing the crucial opportunities offered by participation in physical, social, and other alternative activities?

10 things to do as a family without screens

Convincing kids to give up their screen time is hard, here are some practical ideas.

Devices are part of everyday life – they are everywhere, from the phone in your pocket to the computer on your desk and the TV in your lounge room. These days, we need to actively make the effort to spend time OFF our devices.

Pediatrician Dr. Michael Rich says digital media is a big distraction, with 50% of kids and 75% of parents expressing the opinion that their companions are distracted by screens during conversations (Harvard Medical School, 2019). If everyone is glued to a screen, how can you truly engage with each other? Too much screen time is detrimental to an individual’s health and wellbeing, more so for children and teenagers (Caroli, Argentieri, Cardone, & Masi, 2004; Laurson, Lee, Gentile, Walsh, & Eisenmann, 2014).

It is recommended that older kids and teenagers should spend no more than 2 hours using screens daily (including homework), with the amount of screen time reducing fairly drastically with a reduction in age (Australian Department of Health, 2014). So, what can you do instead?

Alternatives to screen activities

Dr. Rich specifically recommends sitting down together as a family without screens (check out our suggestions for dinner time conversation starters). It’s important to take time to speak with your loved ones, without distractions, and nourish that sense of family connection. If screens (or other challenges) have created a disconnect within your family unit, then it is an even more relevant suggestion. Being present with those around you is a completely different interpersonal experience than the disjointed conversations that occur when every chime from your phone draws your attention away from the present moment.

Spending time with your children, engaged in specific activities, creates a feeling of togetherness that is irreplaceable (and unachievable when dictated by a screen). Although it is entirely possible to have fun as a family watching a movie or playing an online game, this shouldn’t be the only type of activity you engage in. Ask your children what they would like to do as a family that doesn’t involve screens. Chances are they have a list of things they don’t usually remember they enjoy, because screen time is a default (because it’s easy and addictive!).

Spending time as a family

Hopefully, between you and your children, you can come up with some fabulous, fun activities to enjoy together.

Here are our 10 favourite things to do as a family that don’t involve screens:

  1. Boardgames: Depending on the game, you could be engaging in role playing, strategy, teamwork, deductive reasoning… There are so many possibilities for family fun!
  2. Baking cookies: Creating something from scratch is always rewarding. Cookies are a simple thing to bake collaboratively, from the mixing to the decorating. Best of all, they are also easy to share!
  3. Bike riding: Why not head outdoors and go for a bike ride with your family? It could be just around the block or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, look for a park with a bike track or an appropriate trail.
  4. Gardening: There’s no reason the activity you choose has to be purely fun. If you get some work done around the house while enjoying your family’s company, so much the better! Gardening is a great group activity – everyone can be assigned their own tasks, individually or in small groups, depending on how large your family is – which also offers therapeutic value and opportunities for learning and contributing to family meals.
  5. Have a picnic: You don’t even have to go anywhere. Set up a blanket in your backyard and enjoy your family’s company while you much on homemade sandwiches and hand-squeezed orange juice!
  6. Karaoke: Singing karaoke is so easy these days with YouTube offering an abundance of instrumental tracks with words for singing along. But, since we’re ditching screens for this list, you can go old school and pop in a CD to croon to! If you (or your kids) aren’t a fan of singing, you can always just groove to the tune and enjoy just letting loose with some silly moves!
  7. Go camping: You can go all out and plan a camping trip to somewhere fabulous, or just put up your tent in the backyard. If you’re in a fairly dark location, you can also do a little stargazing!
  8. DIY pizza night: Make family dinner a fun occasion by preparing some pizza bases that you and your kids can add toppings to for a delicious DIY dinner!
  9. Do a puzzle: Puzzles can be challenging and encourage using observation and deductive skills, as well as teamwork when done as a family. For a challenge, grab a 1000-piece floor puzzle to give everyone room to join in.
  10. Charades: Acting out scenes like a goofball shows your kids that you aren’t afraid to have fun and that you trust and enjoy their company. It can boost their confidence to know you don’t mind looking silly in front of them and can help shed some of those “OMG you’re so embarrassing” layers!

There are so many more activities we could suggest, but we think this is a good mix. Spend a little time indoors and a little time outdoors (and if your kids need some more outdoor time, check out our list of outdoor activities for teens and tweens) to find an even balance of sedentary and active engagement with your kids!

How everyday parents are responding to the stress of family life

Australian parents are struggling with the daily stress of trying to manage their child’s behaviour, according to new findings from The Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll.

The latest RCH Poll has uncovered an undercurrent of confusion, guilt and stress among parents who are trying to get the best behaviour from their children yet unsure of where to go for help.

The poll, based on a survey of 2044 parents Australia-wide caring for 3545 children aged one year to under 18 years old, found:

  • The vast majority (95%) of parents use positive tactics to promote good behaviour in their children, such as attention, praise and reward
  • One in four parents (27%) report feeling stressed by their child’s behaviour every day
  • A significant proportion of Australian children have been physically disciplined in the past month, according to parent report, with 4% being physically disciplined `quite a lot or most of the time’, 13% `some of the time’ and a further 24% `rarely’
  • Many parents reflect critically on their own parenting strategies, with almost half of (48%) said they become impatient too quickly, while one in three (36%) said they often lost their temper and later felt guilty
  • A third of parents (33%) said children should be on their best behaviour at all times, suggesting a lack of understanding about the range of normal childhood behaviours
  • A third (32%) said they often feel overwhelmed by managing their child’s behaviour
  • And almost half (45%) of parents are not confident that they would know where to go for help if they had difficulty managing their child’s behaviour

The 12th RCH Poll reveals that parents spend a lot of time thinking about how to manage their child’s behaviour yet many are critical of their own strategies. Parents of younger children are especially more likely to feel stressed at least once a day by their child’s behaviour.
However, almost all parents try positive techniques to encourage good behaviour at least some of the time. These include:

  • Giving their child praise or attention when they behave well (95%)
  • Rewarding good behaviour with an activity together (84%)
  • Talking with their child about the type of behavior they expect (93%)
  • Talking with their children about their feelings when they misbehave (85%)
  • Non-physical consequences such as time out or withdrawal of privileges (84%)

Many parents used positive and negative strategies when their child misbehaved. Punitive techniques used at least ‘some of the time, quite a lot or most of the time’ in the previous month included:

  • Shouting or yelling at their child (61%)
  • Making their child feel bad to teach them a lesson (35%)
  • Threatening physical discipline (23%)
  • Using physical discipline (17%) such as smacking, hitting, spanking, slapping, pinching or pulling

The poll found more than half of Australian parents (51%) think it is never OK to use physical discipline with a child. However, almost one in five parents (23%) subscribe to myths that physical discipline teaches a child to respect their parents. Another one in five (23%) also believe it teaches children self-discipline, while a quarter believe children can become unmanageable without physical discipline.

Poll Director and paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes, said: “Children behave in different ways depending on their age, temperament, developmental stage and the situation. It is normal for children to push boundaries and to have difficulty regulating their emotions. Understanding the reasons for a child’s behavior will help parents respond sensitively and more effectively to challenging behaviours.’’

“Children’s brains are hardwired for attention. The best type of attention for a child to receive is a positive response to desired behaviour. Praise, praise and more praise. If you see your child behaving well – praise them. They will love it and do it again to please you.’

In this video, Dr Anthea Rhodes shares a snapshot of the findings.

What’s happening with screen time in our home?

Over the past decade, screen time has begun to play an increasing role in children’s lives. Media devices such as computers and mobile devices have provided significant opportunities for sociability, learning, creativity, self-expression and entertainment, and television remains a central element of children’s leisure time

Use of new electronic media, such as computers and electronic games, has become increasingly prevalent in children’s lives, with almost every Australian household with children under 15 years of age (96%) having access to the Internet at home in 2012-13 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014). As at April 2012, 90% of children aged 5-14 years had accessed the Internet in the previous year (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012). According to this same survey, watching television (including DVDs and movies) consumed more of children’s leisure time than other identified recreational activities (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012), and so remains an important area to explore in relation to screen time.

Does your child struggle through one of the top ten health problems in Australia?

The RCH National Child Health poll ranks parents top 10 child health problems in Australia. And guest which is number one?

Excessive screen time has emerged as the top ‘big problem’ for the health of Australian children and teenagers.

The first Australian Child Health Poll reveals the top ten child health problems as reported by the Australian public.

The top ten child health problems as told by the Australian public are:

  1. Excessive screen time Obesity Not enough physical activity
  2. Unhealthy diet
  3. Bullying
  4. Illegal drug use
  5. Family and domestic violence
  6. Internet safety
  7. Child abuse and neglect
  8. Suicide
  9. Director of the poll, Dr Anthea Rhodes said modern day health problems such as those identified in the top ten are often easier to ignore than address.

These issues have become so engrained in our lives that they’re almost perceived as unsolvable problems. But we now know that the community considers them to be the biggest health problems for children and teenagers today

Some of the key findings show that:

Almost 60% of Australians say excessive screen time is a big health problem for Australian children and young people. Parents rate obesity more frequently as a big problem for children in the community than for their own children. One in ten parents rate dental issues as a big problem for their own children. The top ten perceived health problems relate to modern lifestyle, mental health concerns and child safety.

Excessive screen time was the most frequently identified big problem followed by obesity, not enough physical activity and unhealthy diet.