The scenario is all-too familiar.
You’re in an important Zoom meeting and need one gloriously uninterrupted hour to focus on work. Despite the fact that it’s 8 in the morning, you hand over the iPad to keep your kid entertained.
Or how about this one:
Your tween has stopped complaining that they’re bored and started spending all their free time scrolling on social media. It’s a struggle to get them to put down their phone at mealtimes.
Or even this:
You’re concerned about your child’s gaming habits. A hobby has become an obsession, and your kid seems to be gaming when you wake up in the morning and when you go to sleep at night. It’s getting harder to talk to them, and you wonder if their schoolwork is slipping.
I completely get it. Screen time is so easy and so entertaining. It’s designed to grab and hold our attention. And the longer we stay isolated and inside, the more time you and your kid are likely to spend in the glow of a phone, computer, tablet, or TV. It’s exhausting to keep antsy children occupied, especially when you’ve got work that needs to get done.
Is your family’s screen time spiraling out of control? How do you keep yourself from being overcome by guilt from allowing too much screen time? And how do we all keep our screens from destroying us mentally, emotionally, and even physically?
First, take a deep breath. Screens are not inherently evil, and you are not a bad parent for using them. You simply need to apply some conscious parenting to your family’s approach to screentime:
- Understand the media your kids use. You don’t have to feel like you’re making a deal with the devil every time you let your child use a screen. Instead of allowing devices to rule your life, take your power back by educating yourself about them. What shows/apps/websites/games do your children like to watch or use? Try to incorporate some educational and values-forming content in with the fun stuff and the fluff.
- Build-in interactive activities. Does your child love watching musicals? Schedule a family sing-a-long. Are they interested in drawing? Let them watch an art show and do some inspired drawing together afterward. You can even host a bake-off based on your favorite cooking show!
- Incorporate live face time. To encourage social interaction, suggest some online face time with relatives or friends. There are even apps out now that allow you to read a book with someone remotely.
- Structure hours. Work with your child, if they’re old enough for the discussion, to set reasonable and mutually agreed-to limits on screen time. Carve out time to go for a family walk or play some old-school board games. Try to build in electronic-free times and zones, especially around mealtimes and bedtimes.
- Make a co-parenting agreement. If you’re raising your kids with other caregivers, make sure you are all aware about screen time usage in each household. You may not implement the same schedules or limits, but keeping each other informed will eliminate confusion and foster effective communication.
- Model screen-free behavior. If you’re constantly scrolling or checking email, you can’t expect your kid to place much value on your warnings against screen time. Set guidelines for your family, not just for your kids — and make sure to adhere to the rules yourself!
As parents, we worry a lot about the issue of screen time and how too much of it might hurt our children. But at the end of the day, we have to realize that devices are just pieces of metal, and it’s up to us to use them for ill or for gain. As our children’s parents, what’s important is that we give them what a screen ultimately can’t: the love, attention, and support they need.
P.S. Gaming addiction is a very specific, and real, screentime concern. If you’re worried about your kid’s gaming habits, check out my free webinar with Cam Adair, founder of Game Quitters and a former video game addict.