Kid: Can I play on the iPad now?
Kid: Why not?
Parent: Because you get upset and argue every time you have to get off.
Kid: Not this time, I swear!
Parent: You say that every time, but fine, whatever.
1 Hour Later...
Parent: Okay, it’s time to get off.
Kid (trying to run away): No no no no just a few. More. Minutes!
I’m not sure how screen time is handled in your house, but in mine this was pretty much a daily occurrence. The only thing I knew from experience was that the authority had to control the screens, that kids did not have the foresight to balance their own time.
Since digital entertainment supplies the dopamine that motivates us to seek more, and is relatively cheap and endless, for many it is an addiction waiting to happen. This I knew, but how to teach balance and build habits of self-control in kids I had to learn the hard way. And here’s what I’ve learned.
Consequences, not punishment. Punishment is emotionally charged, and sets up the dynamic of “do as I say, otherwise face my wrath.” This instills a sense of fear toward authority rather than a trust that they are there to help. Consequences are simple, logical, black and white.
From the parent’s perspective there are no emotions involved, which allows them to remain supportive during the kid’s struggle. Consequences are always paired with expectations and should be agreed upon by everyone involved beforehand.
An example of this for screen time could be:
Expectation — When the timer goes off, the tech device will be off and placed in its docking station within 60 seconds.
Consequence — If not, screen time entertainment will be forfeited the next day.
Routines = Relaxation. Much of the tension and arguments around screens in my house came from uncertainty of events, or lack of routine. The kids were constantly asking if they could play on devices, and I was constantly having to say no (a word that ruins a child if said too often, be careful!), which created endless arguments of why it wasn’t a good time, when it would be, who gets extra time or not enough from the day before, etc.
The simple solution to this is to have screen entertainment time built into a daily schedule (discussed collaboratively with the kids) so there is no question about when they can have it, how long it will be or what their responsibilities are beforehand.
One example of a routine that I used for a while during summer and weekends was an hour each of reading, being outside, play and chores, then an hour of technology. It didn’t have to be in order, and they could repeat it if they wanted more tech time, but it did instill an overall habit of a balanced life.
Once habits are established, routines and schedules can be relaxed or even tossed aside as they’re no longer needed.
Lastly, be involved. Don’t use screens as a babysitter. It may make things easier now, but it will only create problems in the future. Play the games with the kids, watch some of the videos they like to watch and use some of the apps they do.
Your attention is your love, so wherever you place your attention is what you love. Many kids even learn to misbehave to get this attention, because even if negative, love is still love.
Your kids will learn how to get your love, do you want it to be on their terms or yours?