It can be such a struggle to teach a healthy balance of tech and non-tech time. I don’t know how old your kids are, but I’m guessing it’s turned into a power struggle. Are they starting to argue with you about how much screen time is “reasonable”? Or maybe they’ve pushed right past that and are just on their screens all the time?
No matter what limits and boundaries parents put up, the reality is, if kids want it bad enough, they’ll find another way to be online. Whether it’s borrow a friend’s phone or figure out how to sneak time online, they’re clever.
How can you teach them they shouldn’t do this 24/7?
Here are 3 lessons to teach your kids that will help:
#1 Take time to define your values and why limited screen time is important, and share them with your kids.
#2 Have a conversation where your kids get to be the experts. Ask them curiosity questions about why they “need” more screen time, what they’re missing, what they like to do online. Just listen. And empathize. “Oh your friends are all on IG and you’re missing out. That sounds hard.” And then brainstorm all the possible solutions, even the ones that are a hard no for you. Just possibilities. There are so many! And narrow it down to 3 options you both can live with.
#3 Find out how the apps/games they’re using make them FEEL. There’s a Happiness Factor worksheet LINK to BLOG that helps parents find out how kids feel and what emotions are triggered before/during/after screen time.
The more I learn about screen time triggering “pleasure” in our brain through dopamine and the brain science of how dopamine works, the more I have empathy for kids who crave their devices. When they’re overflowing with dopamine, they cannot physically be content. They crave more pleasure. It’s addictive.
I ask my own children “What’s going on?” when they’re crabby or anxious. And I’ll provide my theories about why they’re on edge too. “Remember how you stayed up til midnight watching TV last night? I have a theory that you’re cranky today because your body didn’t get enough rest. What do you think?”
Pointing out how their choices affect them, and people around them like their family, friends and strangers, is important. Not in an “I told you so” way. There’s nothing that turns off my listening quicker than someone who has that tone! But if your child is feeling crappy today, it’s okay to say (with curiosity, not sarcasm), “Hmmm, I wonder if that has anything to do with what you did yesterday?”
Here are some more phrases to practice.
(Seriously, practice them. Because it’s easy to get the tone wrong and move into sarcasm and I-told-you-so.)
- “Oh, you got in a fight with a friend? Hmmm, were you trying to fix it via text? Would you be open to a suggestion? Maybe next time you could stop typing when you notice it’s getting heated and reach out to see them face-to-face and work it out. Without screenshotting the convo and getting all your friends to take sides.”
- “Oh, you’re hungry because you forgot to eat while you were playing games all day? Dang, the kitchen is closed right now. It sucks that you’ll have to wait for dinner but I know you can do it.” And for goodness sake, if your rule is that the kitchen is closed at certain hours, DON’T let them in. (This is a fantastic use of “natural consequence”. Sometimes the natural consequences are stronger than any lecture. Children need to remember what happens when they make these choices so they will be willing to make different ones next time.)
- “Uh Oh, I’m hearing a lot of sass. We’ve noticed you seem to get mouthier when you play games for long stretches of time. What would you think about a week of detoxing with no games? What would you have time for without games?” If your kids are anything like mine, you’ll have their attention and they’ll be terrified. It’s important for them to know what ELSE they can do and detox breaks are a good idea.
I have a clearly defined allowance for screen and electronics use. I am consistent and don’t deviate from it. My three teens/tweens know exactly what to expect. Screentime is seldom an argument at my house.
It’s easy to be consistent with an app that filters the internet and limits time automatically. I use Circle and it lets me set up bedtimes so devices just stop working and limit/turn off certain apps.
What we DO negotiate is HOW screentime happens. The mechanics.
Just last week my 10 and 13 year olds hatched a plan that they should be able to “bank” screentime. “If we’re gone all day and don’t use our screentime, we should be able to use it the next day.” I listened to their proposal and asked some questions. “How will you track your time?” was a biggie. They created a homemade spreadsheet. We agreed to try it for a week.
I love that they see a “problem” and can brainstorm solutions. I love that they can negotiate with me and their Dad. I love that we find solutions that will work for all of us and set a trial period. These are good lessons for the future!
While this is likely to seem controversial, every year I give my kids a few days of no time limits. “Play til your heart’s content, all damn day if ya want!” We call these days “Technology Day” and they generally happen around transition times. When school lets out in June. Before school starts again in Fall. Over Winter break. Long airplane rides.
Like most things they “have to have”, the screens lose their appeal by the end of the day. They tend to wander off to do something else.
My friend tells me she gave her son unlimited screentime for the first few days of summer break. Then lately they’ve spent the last several weeks doing anything but screens. They’ve been outside, at parks, pools, concerts, reading, etc.. Gaming now occurs for about an hour each day and then her 15 year old naturally walks away. Moderation and self-regulation. That’s what we want to teach.
If we make the internet the “forbidden fruit”, kids will crave it. Whatever they “can’t” have seems way cooler than what they have full access to.
Setting healthy boundaries is what our children need. Just like us, they need someone to guide them when they are unaware of the dangers and they need someone to love them through the learning process.
I invite you to sign up for my intentional screens challenge if you want to see how you and your children are actually spending your time when it comes to your screens!