“Five more minutes!” you call into the living room.
Your daughter and son are both engrossed in their tablets. They haven’t left the couch all afternoon.
You feel that you have no control over it either – take away their devices and they become complaining, moping monsters.
To top it off, they’re not even doing anything remotely educational on their devices. It’s all mind-numbing junk food.
So, what to do? Set a time limit and be the constant enforcer?
Or teach kids to regulate themselves on screen time.
Dream come true?
Before we talk about regulating screen time, let’s lay to rest one important issue.
Is screen time really bad?
Once upon a time, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that kids shouldn’t get more than 2 hours of screen time per day.
Thankfully, that’s been revised. But the new recommendations aren’t based on any evidence either.
What they do is cause many parents to make decisions out of fear rather than data.
Screen time on its own is not inherently evil.
The main drawback of our kids being on screens for too long is that it limits the time they can spend on other activities such as physical play, social interaction and responsibilites for the family.
When we view it in that respect, there is no guilt in letting our kids play on screens nor is there a set amount of time that we need to cap screen time at.
Kids need a break from the world
I use my phone to disengage when I’m overstimulated and so kids are using it in this way as well.
But, unlike us, our kids aren’t aware of what they’re missing when on their tablet playing Crossy Road.
And that’s what we want to show them.
It is not our job to police their screen time, but rather expose our children to all the activities they can engage in that don’t require screens.
Once we have them hooked on those other activities, they will self-regulate their own screen time.
(And this does not mean you have to prep a bazillion things for them to do and keep them entertained every second of the day)
Nope… we’re going to give them the gift of boredom.
Our twisted relationship with our phones
Social media is really a creation of evil genius. When we talk about addiction, chemically it is one.
Just the other day, my daughter and I painted at a local art shop. I made this fantastic home sign and my daughter created two dancer silhouettes.
We were both pretty stoked about the results.
And I’m going to be totally honest, I wanted to show it off.
So, I loaded a few pictures up to Facebook, pushed the post button and bam… I waited for the likes to come in.
Every single like that appeared in my notifications triggered the release of dopamine in my brain – a neurotransmitter that controls motivation and reward seeking behaviors.
Dopamine feels good and it makes me want more of whatever gave it to me.
So I go back to my phone to check again… and again… and again.
If you feel like you can’t control yourself from picking up your cell phone, this is why.
To add to the mania, Facebook, the evil genius it is, added a feature that displays an animated heart or thumbs up with the giver’s profile picture if you are logged on when that comment is given live.
Of course I want to see that animated thumb!!! So, the cycle continues.
My phone is not giving me any lasting happiness, it’s just the source of my next dopamine hit.
And I make this apparent to my daughter. I’m not happy checking my phone all the time. In fact, it causes me more anxiety, increases my depression and create a few paranoid tendencies if I’m on it too often.
WHOA! I thought we were supposed to feel less guilty about screen time?
We are. But before we can teach our kids to self regulate their screen time, we need to be aware of the processes behind the screen time addiction.
We’re up against a lot as parents. Knowing the monster is the best way to beat it.
Point out the trickery involved in apps & games
It’s not just social media that produces the dopamine effect. Games, apps, everything we and our kids use have some sort of reward system built in.
- finally achieving that next level in a game.
- Getting bonus points for finishing under a certain time
- Receiving a medal for your longest run on Subway Surfers
Most games and apps have a feature built in that encourages the user to stay on for longer. It’s good to point this out to kids.
Take a look at their favorite app or game and figure out that reward system. Then, point it out to your child. Tell her how the creators designed it to keep her on her tablet longer.
They’re manipulating her brain.
She might shrug you off or say “Whatever, mom” at the time. But, the next time she plays, your comment will slowly seep into her mind and take over.
She’ll become aware just like how I made you aware of the evil genius of Facebook.
Push them towards a fun goal
I admit. I turn to my phone when I have nothing else I want to do.
Dishes? Oooh, no Facebook is much more important.
Deadline? I think I need to find out what the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex are doing.
Kid screaming? Time for some Real Housewives.
Sounds terrible, but oh geez, sometimes screens create such a more appealing escape than real life.
What does stop me from turning to my iPhone is having another goal. However it needs to be a goal:
- I actually enjoy and
- want to see accomplished.
While most of us moms have unfortunately lost what we find enjoyable -and I must admit, I’m still trying to find a hobby that’s not my work – kids are still in this age of play and possibility – not that we aren’t, it’s just easier for kids to connect with it that we can.
For instance, my daughter’s currently obsessed with doing handstands and flips off all of our furniture. We encourage it by spotting her a few times a day and enrolled her in a summer tumbling class – where there are mats and minimal tile floor.
My four-year-old son loves building and creating with LEGO’S. So we have three boxes of LEGO pieces for him to dig around in.
Two warnings on this one:
- Simply encourage. Do not go out and plan tons of activities around this interest.
- It’s important that kids take control of this interest. We can’t push them.
What if my child has no interest outside of his device?
This was my son.
He was so hooked on back-to-back episodes of Peppa Pig and Ben & Holly’s Magic Kingdom that he had no clue what to do once the TV turned off.
In fact, he came to me for his entertainment – which drove me a bit mad.
So, I relied on one useful phrase.
Son: Mommy, why do I have to turn off the TV?
Me: Because I want you to use your imagination.
Son: (starts crying) But I don’t know what imagination MEANS..
He was 4. But since then, he’s grasped the definition of imagination and does a really great job of entertaining himself without a device.
(And when he doesn’t and I have stuff I need to do, you better believe I let him watch a few episodes of Paw Patrol)
If you need a few ideas of what they can do before screen time and would like to use a more structured approach, grab this free screen time printable.
To get the printable:
- Click on the “Summer Screen Time” image above (or right here),
- Fill in your e-mail address and first name.
- Press “Yes, Please” and check your inbox.
When kids limit screen time…
It’s all about balance. Screen time is not inherently evil and we do not need to stand over our kids with a timer telling them when they need to put away their devices.
By making them aware of how addicting it can be, encouraging other talents and providing some necessary space for boredom we encourage our kids to regulate their own screen time.
Eventually, they’ll choose other activities even when we’re not around.