July 15, 2021
If this past pandemic year left you feeling more concerned about screen time in your home, rest assured you’re not alone.
For so many parents, COVID took life and spun it upside down. Home became the workplace and the workplace became home. Healthy routines were harder to keep as schedules blurred and staying connected to work and learning meant more time behind a screen.
Even before the pandemic, parents were growing more concerned about screen time. In a 2018 Pew Research survey, two-thirds of parents said they were concerned about their teen’s levels of screen time. In a more recent survey conducted by family advocacy group ParentsTogether, 82% of parents said they are worried about their children's screen time - particularly time spent on social media.
"82% of parents said they are worried about their children's screen time - particularly time spent on social media."
Before we get any further though, let’s acknowledge something: this is no shame session. If any year in the history of parenting ever begged for a blanket of grace and hope for fresh starts, well my friends, that year was 2020.
As the world slowly starts to move back toward normal this summer (or maybe the “new normal”), it’s a great time to ask a simple, practical question: what should “normal” look like? And before anyone tries to tell you the answer, why not give yourself the space to consider for you and your family.
Here’s the good news: change doesn’t have to look radical. Leading experts in this space agree; it’s the little things we do consistently that make the biggest difference. Before the scramble of fall sets in, it’s a great time to get intentional and practical about new routines and building healthy family habits. So to get you started we’ve compiled four practical starting-point ideas to help you get screen time right for your family.
“Place” has a powerful way of creating associations in the mind - especially the rapidly developing minds of our little ones. In recent years, researchers have uncovered incredible insights into how the mind forms and sustains new habits. Our minds tend to create loops or patterns in which something triggers an action to receive a reward. One way researchers suggest breaking a habit? Disrupt the loop.
A very practical way to do this is to rethink not just how your family does something (in this case, spending time in front of a screen), but where. While time limits can seem arbitrary to kids, location is more tangible. Could the kitchen table be a “no screen zone”? What about bedrooms?
Just as important, what are your family’s spaces where you can make screen time intentional and invited? Instead of focusing only on how much screen time kids should have, consider also asking where.
We all know what it’s like to be told “no, you can’t.” Whether you’re a kid or an adult, let’s be real -- it’s no fun. But how different does it feel when someone helps you understand the problem and invites you into building the solution? All of a sudden you’re no victim, you’re a collaborator!
Kids need that same invitation when it comes to screen time. How much screen time do kids need? Well, what if you asked your kids? What would they say? Try making it a project - grab a big ol’ piece of paper, markers, and make it a family activity to map out a plan to help everyone spend less time with screens and more time playing together.
"How much screen time do kids need? Well, what if you asked your kids? What would they say?"
Setting shared goals can be a wonderful way to come together and make a memory while you’re at it. Who knows, you might just be amazed what your youngsters dream up!
For those with a little older kids, we love the resources that START (Stand Together And Rethink Technology) has developed for having collaborative conversations with your kids about how they engage with technology.
Too often for parents, it can feel like there are only two options when it comes to technology habits and screen time: “anything goes” or “absolutely nothing.” But there’s a middle ground, and it’s especially true for those who start early.
Instead of banning screens, consider adopting truly kid-safe devices that are actually designed for kids - and maybe most of all, parents too.
These kind of simple, limited-functionality devices like the leading kids smartwatches can be the perfect starting point for kids ages 5-11, introducing healthy technology habits without all the unintended influences and addictive features that so often come with screens.
Another idea: go retro! Instead of banning video games for example, try finding an old NES or N64 system and make some good old Super Mario or Mario Kart action a family screen-time activity. You might find a much better conversation waiting when you tell your curious kids “we like the cool classic games in our family” instead of just “that’s not allowed.”
One tip you’ll often see is to make screen time a reward for doing other positive things like chores or homework. While that can absolutely be a positive and helpful approach, it can also make screen time the reward that helps to elevate its value in a kid’s mind.
You know that moment when your kid comes running to ask “can I have the [insert device]?” or “can I play [insert game]?” One idea we love is to take the moment and ask a simple question: why? Instead of only encountering rules, a child is given a moment to consider what they want and why they want it.
In many cases, that moment may be a great opportunity to disconnect boredom from screen time. Helping kids learn how to be bored without a screen can be a powerful thing.
It also gives parents the opportunity to redirect the screen time focus from simple stimulation to something with a goal, like learning something new! The subtle message over time: screens are places we go to learn and engage, not tune out.
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