kids sitting at a table using their devices

Managing the amount of time kids spend on screens is stressful to parents, teachers and even the kids themselves. Most of my students have a bit of a love-hate relationship with their devices. It is often the first and easiest place to hide from what is bothering them but often leaves them with a bit of a screen hangover.

Kids often show addictive behaviour when it comes to video games and social media. A lot of my students say they feel compelled to check their social media frequently out of the fear of missing out on something (what so and so had for dinner?), and a nagging need to see how many ‘likes’ they got on a post. While looking for outside validation is normal, and in reasonable doses, can even be healthy.

The problem with the social media so many of them are hooked on is that it isn’t about checking immediate context (‘No one else is picking their nose–maybe I shouldn’t either right now’), and it isn’t about real human connection. Instagram, for example, is a highly curated and superficial view of a person’s life. Kids do not always think about that – often they take it at face value. This can lead to a great deal of anxiety when they don’t think they are measuring up (to people they don’t even necessarily know). A ‘like’ on a post is not a meaningful connection, but it can be misinterpreted as one. Sometimes kids are aware of this but still cannot resist the pull of the screen.

Video Games

Video games are another controversial and addictive use of tech. We all decompress in different ways, and in reasonable doses, gaming can be a great way to do this. I have also had kids admit that they use gaming as a way to avoid dealing with problems. Again, we all do that to a certain extent. Figuring out when it goes from a net benefit to a net loss is the challenge here.

These days, we all rely increasingly on digital technology to do our work–and that certainly includes school work. Simply saying “No screen time”, while often tempting, isn’t realistic. So how do you help your child find a healthy balance?

Plan Ahead and Do it Together

Developing a plan with your kids is a good first step. They need to have a voice in the ‘rules’, particularly at the tween stage of life. This will reduce attempts to negotiate or break the rules later on.

Some things to consider:

  • What is the device is being used for
    • Is it the most logical way to accomplish the task (this can include decompressing)?
    • What is the specific goal they are trying to accomplish?
    • Is it being used to avoid something else that needs to be done?
    • How does the child feel afterwards?
  • How much time is spent on screens
    • Compare to time engaged in physical activity
      • Creative or real life social engagement
  • What is the content
    • Is it in line with their social/emotional maturity?
    • Is it in line with your family values?
  • Have specific tech and non-tech times in a day or in a week
  • An earning component
    • Completing chores or homework
  • How they see you use technology
    • Are you willing/able to consistently live by the same ‘rules’? Modelling the use of tech/screens that you want them to use is very important.

I’ve included a link to the article by Claire Gagne, called “4 Parent-Tested Systems You can Use to Limit Screen Time”. She has some great tips to help figure out how your family can manage tech and find a healthy sense of balance in life. Gagne also notes the dangers of engaging in negotiation–something that can quickly undermine the work you have done in setting a routine. Shifting the focus from ‘screens or no screens’ to ‘what makes a happy, healthy, balanced person/family’, is an effective and less emotionally charged starting point.