There was once a segment on Oprah in which families where challenged to give up electronics for a week, including TV. It was interesting to watch how difficult it was for parents, as well as their children, to give up all of their screens. One scene was particularly difficult to watch. A five-year-old boy could hardly stand it to give up playing video games. His temper tantrums were quite dramatic. His mother shared that she was embarrassed when she realized he had been playing video games for five hours a day. The good news was that after the whole family went through “media withdrawal,” they discovered how to replace screen time with family activities that increased their family closeness and enjoyment.
Would it surprise you to know that 2-5-year-olds watch more than 32 hours of TV a week? (Nielsen) Children ages 8-18 spend more than 53 hours a week online and almost 8 hours of media use each day. (Kaiser Family Foundation) In today’s digital world, families are exposed to more screen time than ever before. Smartphones, tablets, YouTube and the ever-popular game, Minecraft are just a few of the many sources of electronic connection that vie for time and attention from both parents and children.
But what does this mean? Is it good? After all, aren’t children who grow up using electronic media learning skills that will keep them connected and current in in a technologically driven world? Or is too much technology a bad thing? Does it prevent kids from learning important interpersonal skills like live conversations and social graces?
There is research that demonstrates how the brain develops differently with excessive screen time, so it is true that screen time does affect a child’s development. But my guess is that you don’t need research to know that your children are on their screens too much each day; you know this from your own wisdom and intuition. Maybe you’re not sure what to do about it, or you’ve avoided doing something about it because…
- You don’t like to admit that it is nice to have your children so easily entertained so you can have some time to yourself.
- It involves such a power struggle to get the kids to disconnect from their devices. It is easier to just let it go.
- You don’t realize that screen time is addictive.
- You justify it with the benefits technology brings: “Look at all the skills my child is learning.”
The key lies in finding a balance. Yes, kids are keeping up with technology and learning new skills that will help them if their lives. And yes, too much media use does prevent them from becoming proficient in person-to-person communication skills. What you can do to help your kids find that balance of screen time with “real life” is to work together to set limits around daily media use…including your own.
You can read some real world examples from SingleDadBrad. First read how he had a Panic Attack when he first saw the tool card. Then read how he and his children found a solution that would work in their family.
Try these Positive Discipline tools to help manage your family’s screen time so it doesn’t manage you:
- Have a Family Meeting. Get the whole family involved in a plan for reducing screen time. Part of the solutions should include things to do in place of screen time. It is more difficult to give something up when you don’t have plans for what else to do.
- Create a “parking lot” for electronics—have a basket or charging station in a central location in the house at which family members “park” their electronics during certain times of day.
- Establish new routines. Start with one time of day to be screen free (such as dinner) and periodically add on other times of day.
- Stay close with your child with Special Time. Children will listen to your limits about screen time when they feel understood and that you “get” them. Spend regular one-on-one time together to keep your relationship strong.
- Hold limits with Kindness and Firmness. Changing a screen time habit is hard; be ready for disappointment, anger, and sad feelings. Hold your limits by empathizing with a child’s feelings and sticking with the limit you’ve set.
For more ideas about limiting screen time, get the e-book: Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens