Why screen time can = scream time

Being a parent in the digital age can be a continual battle of wrestling our children off their screens, whether it’s the computer, iPad, phone, TV or gaming console. School holidays in particular can be a trying time, especially now in the colder months when there is a reluctance to play outdoors. If you are a working parent, modelling good online behaviour is made even harder if you have to work from home during the holidays.

Kids on screens is not necessarily a bad thing – they can learn something, they are doing something they enjoy, and they are occupied, quiet and the complaining stops for a little while.

However, too much screen time can cause behavioural issues such as tantrums in younger children, can be harmful for their eyes, and the blue light and backlit screens can keep children (and adults) struggling to get off to sleep.

The more your children are on screens, the less monitoring you can do, and the better they get at navigating their way around the internet in ways you may not necessarily want. And of course, the more screen time they participate in, the more susceptible they are to predators and cyberbullying.

Here are some simple ways to reduce your child’s screen time, and if tackled gently and carefully, can give your family some relief.

1. Communication:
As always, start with communicating with your child.  Explain to them why it’s bad to be on screens a lot and what they can do if they are cyberbullied.

2. Create rosters:
Together with your child draw up a roster of hours specifically when, and for how long they can be on screens. When children are involved with these kinds of decisions they are more likely to accept them.

3. Go Easy:
Put yourself in their shoes – in the same way that we as adults wouldn’t appreciate someone abruptly turning off our internet access, kids also find it hard to have access suddenly removed. Many online games do not have an ending or are repetitive in nature, and in such situations it may be unrealistic to expect kids to self-regulate. Try giving your child five minute warnings or get them a timer on their watch or phone. Another option is to sit next to them and ask them questions about the game or app as a way of gently getting them to look away from the screen (which can be extremely powerful and addictive).

4. Reward them:
Offer rewards for doing activities other than screen time, such as using magazines to cut out words to make a funny story, a board game or making a version of their favourite online game using only paper and pen (there are many resources online for activity ideas during the holidays away from the screen). Rewards could include a trip to the skate park, their choice for dinner, an extra driving lesson from you, a “no chores pass for the day”, a new book, or choosing an extra bed time story.

5. Kids love a challenge:
Set them a goal to see how long they can stay off the screen – how many hours, or days can they get to? Children usually love goals and competitions and will love the challenge, especially if competing with siblings or parents.

6. There’s an app for that:
There are programs and monitors available online that enable remote control access to your children’s screens or the family WiFi network such as OurPact, Parental Control, kid Tracker, mSpy, FlexiSpy and Google WiFi lets you set time schedules and blocks bad stuff. You can set limits based on the length of time they are logged on, or you can choose to cut off their access at a certain time of the day/night.

But these apps and the others out there all have their pros and cons, and so parents should do their own research before making use of them. After all, they are just tools for parents to use, and cannot replace the parental instinct when it comes to keeping your kids safe.

Do these incrementally and gently especially if your children have been on screens a lot in the lead up to tighter restrictions. Children and young adults genuinely enjoy screen time.

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