A little over 6 years ago, I had just reluctantly traded in my basic flip phone for a smartphone. Now? My smartphone practically feels like an appendage. Digital advancements are happening lightening fast. As a result, research on the effects of screen time is struggling to keep pace. This has left most families feeling uninformed and overwhelmed when it comes to creating screen time boundaries.
The truth of the matter is that none of us could have prepared for the epidemic that is screen time in the 21st century. Whether it’s playing a mindless online game, following social media, coordinating a multiplayer video game, or streaming video, there’s something for pretty much everyone. But parents simply don’t have a personal reference point for what it’s like to be a kid in this digital era. None of us were tweens or teens connecting through social media in quite the way that our children are. We didn’t have such instant access to the huge variety of media like children do now.
If you’re like me and other parents, you’ve probably had some desperate moments in search of answers around screen time limits. Perhaps you’ve found yourself asking some of the following questions: what kind of screen time should we be allowing and when? Is it ok to let my child play video games before or between homework assignments? How do I get my kid to get up off the couch? What can I do to get my kid off her phone? How violent is too violent?
While what’s best for your family won’t be the perfect balance for all, there’s a few basic strategies that many families seem to find pretty helpful.
Tips for Battling Screen Time Takeover
Ditch the 2-minute warnings.
In a recent small study of families with young children, researchers evaluated transitions away from technology (computer, tv, tablets, etc). They determined that the hardest transitions were most commonly associated with the parent giving a “two-minute warning” before ending screen time. Shocking, I know! When the end of screen time was part of a regular routine, it was met with less resistance. For example, if your kiddo knows that the iPad always goes off once breakfast is ready, then they will be much less likely to resist this transition. Natural endings as transitions were also more successful. For instance, if screen time is stopped at the end of a TV show or after your child has reached the next level in a video game, they will tend to respond more positively than stopping midway through.
Watch with the kids.
Simply put, engage in the media actively together. For very young children, this can help prevent the language delays associated with screen time. We know that when TV is on, even if it’s just as background noise, families tend to have fewer verbal exchanges a which leads to smaller vocabularies. It’s better to make it an activity with a set beginning and ending that turns it into a springboard for more conversation. That is, use it to develop a common language together that you can reference in later interactions. With planning, you can even use it as a subtle lesson that parallels a situation that your child is working on mastering.
Invest in an alarm clock.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard teens, tweens and parents say that they keep their smartphone in their bedrooms next to them because they rely on it for the alarm clock. It’s a buzzing and binging little temptation that rarely can be resisted, even in the wee hours of the night and many are getting less sleep than they should as a direct result of engaging in late night screen time. I speak from the experience of having had many kids confess in my office when I say that lots of kids aren’t telling their parents when they’re doing this. Make screens inconvenient. Invest in an alarm clock for your teen and make it a practice to dock the phone out of sight at night at least an hour before bedtime. Better yet, as a family, make a commitment to keep all screens out of the bedroom.
This screen time takeover is something that impacts all of us. The battle is ongoing. I’ve identified several moments when I know for certain that it’s impacted my ability to be a present parent. Many other parents report the same. Much of what I’ve learned, came not just from extensive reading on the subject, but also from talking to other parents and trial and error. I encourage you to do the same.
At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting pediatric professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.
Written by: Dr. Brandy Baker, Clinical & Training Director; Licensed Clinical Psychologist