Regulating screen time is something our grandparents didn’t have to worry about at all and our parents (depending on your age) only needed to apply it to a small but chunky TV in the living room. Yet, it is probably one of the most thought about, argued over and discussed parenting practice in our day.
There are apps, help pages, websites and experts, all dedicated to telling us what our screen time should be for each member of the family. There are even websites giving advice on what shows our dogs should watch, when they should watch them and for how long.
All this advice can be overwhelming and often doesn’t seem to relate to our circumstances, especially when life is rocky.
Recently, I came across a great article that didn’t focus on the details but on the big picture approach to screen time. ‘Screen time and your family: a healthy approach’ focuses on behaviour, relationships and lifestyle. It doesn’t paint screen time as the enemy but as a tool to be cleverly used to enhance your family’s relationships.
The five-step guide outlines a simple, common-sense approach to screen use. I don’t think any of these steps will surprise you but it is a good refresher for the early part of the school year.
Step 1. Role-model healthy screen use.
The old adage, ‘do as I do, not as I say’ is true in all things and especially screen time. If your children see you on your phone or iPad for lengthy periods, then you will have a bigger fight on your hands when you tell them to put their phone away or turn off the computer. Make Step 1 about taking control of your own screen use before going onto Step 2. Talk about it with your children and gain their help in your own self-discipline. Tell them about what you use, the pages you visit and, most importantly, how and why you use technology and why you are cutting down or being more disciplined with your screen time.
Step 2. Know how your child uses their technology.
You may not be as enamoured with the current computer games as your ten-year-old or understand the fascination with celebrity culture like your teen but spend time with your child learning what they like and cultivate a genuine interest in their favourite sites or games. It’s more about checking in with them than checking up on them. Finding out what they like will also enhance non-screen time as interests can be explored in other ways.
Step 3. Use good quality content.
This is easy when your children are younger and they are rarely out of your sight however, it becomes more challenging as they grow older. At GCC, we spend time teaching students how to measure the reliability of sources and this is a good habit for home as well. Keep going back to Step 2 so you know what your children are watching and develop conversations about the quality of the content. Time is precious and too valuable to spend on junk sites, many of which can be harmful to a child’s self-esteem.
Step 4. Negotiate rules for family screen time.
Rules are followed more diligently when everyone has input and feels ownership of the behaviour. Different rules are needed for different ages, different days of the week, times of the year and even types of screen time. For example, a secondary student may need more screen time when assignments are due but maybe no screen time on a weekday for playing computer games. If your child is allowed a small amount of gaming time each day but it is a struggle to get them to stop when time is up, maybe more time should be allocated on the weekend and take away time altogether during the week. What works for one doesn’t work for all and that is the importance of family discussions and input. Maybe your children want to have input into when and how long you use your screen time?
Step 5. Use screens together.
Screens are a way of life so let’s use them to connect and grow closer. Use what you have learned from Step 2 and find something you can do together. Online Scrabble is fun with older children, listening to music and singing together is fun with younger children. Learn a new game, hobby or skill together or take a Google Earth tour of places the family would like to visit. The sky’s the limit – especially when you think outside the box.
The healthy use of technology is a vast subject and we haven’t even touched on security apps, not allowing computers in bedrooms or how to apply security settings to devices. We’ve talked in the past about the Momo Challenge, safety checklists, TikTok, Fortnite danger, Parenting in the iGen age, Omegle, to name a few.
If this is too much information and a little overwhelming, then I encourage you to be guided by what a very wise person said two thousand years before screen time was a challenge for parents.
“Whatever is true, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV
Mike Curtis, Principal