There’s so much pressure on parents these days to ‘get it right’.
- Don’t feed your children too much sugar
- Make sure they get enough outside time
- Don’t be a helicopter parent
and my current favourite …
- Don’t let your children have too much screen time!
Concerns about screen time are not new. Most of us remember our parents telling us to turn the telly off or else we’d get ‘square eyes’ or to at least stop sitting right in front of it. The difference these days is there are so many more screens, and we use them in so many different ways.
When we feel overwhelmed, it’s tempting to make big or quick decisions that we hope will change our lives for the better. E.g. deciding that all screens are bad and we’re never going to use them again. The thing is, when we make decisions like this, even if our intentions are good, we usually find it’s really hard to stick to them.
In 2010, author and journalist Susan Maushart published The Winter of Our Disconnect, which chronicled her family’s six-month screen-free experiment. Interestingly, there was a mixed level of support from the parents of her children’s friends, with some expressing concern that the experiment might actually negatively impact on the children’s education, as well as their social and emotional wellbeing.
I found this interesting as I’d always assumed that decisions to reduce or eliminate screen time would be considered positively by almost all parents.
So, what’s the answer? How do we approach making changes to our families’ screen use and stay strong when others disagree with our decisions?
My view is two-fold: Firstly, as parents, you are the experts in your own families, and it’s actually no-one else’s business how much or how little screen time your family engages in. Secondly, screens are like most things – pretty good in moderation, but when we have too much of them they can become a problem.
So, here’s my list of 9 ways to cut back on your family’s screen time without a fight:
- Involve the whole family and list all the screens your family uses, what you like most about them, what you find useful or necessary, and what you don’t.
- Discuss your concerns as a family – you might be surprised to find that other family members are also concerned.
- Consider what success ‘looks like’ … if you don’t know what success looks like then how will you know when you get there?
- Discuss what each of you would like to do when not using screens. E.g. you might like to start a new hobby, or maybe this an opportunity to do more things as a family?
- Write out your family’s new ‘Screen Time Plan’ and stick it on the wall for easy reference. Try to make this plan as simple and doable as possible, and be sure to list lots of ideas for screen-free activities.
- Be authentic. If you’re concerned about the amount of time your family spends on screens, be aware of your own use, and lead by example. Our children learn more from what we do, than from what we say.
- Whenever possible stay strong and stick to the plan, but wherever necessary be flexible. If your child is sick and home from school, then maybe it’s okay to have more screen time than usual?
- Expect some resistance from family members (or even extended family members or friends) once the ‘honeymoon period’ is over. It can be hard to make changes, but eventually new habits will form.
- Give yourself and your family some grace. You are trying to implement a new plan, form new attitudes, and practice new behaviours, and this will take time. It’s okay to have set-backs, but if reducing your family’s overall screen time is important to you, then be sure to get back on track as soon as possible.
In a world obsessed with screens and screen-use, it takes courage and strength to decide your family needs to make changes in this area, and even more so to implement them. Know that you are not alone, and that there are many other families out there trying to do the same. Good luck!