Most parents feel that kids spend far too much time on electronic gadgets and wonder what they can do about it. Let’s face it, modern-day life includes an increasing number of screens, whether it’s TV, smartphones, tablets or computers, so it’s not surprising that our children seem glued to theirs most of the time.
We all ‘feel’ they spend far too much time being electronically connected, but on the other hand, we’re secretly relieved because it shuts them up when we’re driving in the car and gives us time to catch up on doing other things around the house. Perfect babysitters at the press of a button. And then we feel a bit guilty for being bad parents, so we get cross with our kids and moan at them for being attached to their screens for far too long. Most of the time, of course, we’re cross with ourselves.
Don’t delude yourself: moaning at your kids each time they whisk out their mobile phones at the dinner table, is not setting boundaries and rules. It’s up to you, as a family, to decide what is and isn’t going to be acceptable. What’s going to fit with your family values and suit your children’s personalities the best?
HOW TO SET RULES AND GUIDELINES
It’s best to sit down and discuss this issue thoroughly – away from the kids. If you’re not sure ‘how much’ is ‘too much’ seek out information: research online for expert advice; ask friends and family; chat the issue through with school teachers. At the end of this process, take time to sit down together and come up with a set of guidelines that you feel happy with. WRITE THESE DOWN – as daft as it sounds, you’ll forget what you’ve agreed when life gets busy. Once you have your set of agreed guidelines, present them to your children in a group or family meeting, explaining why you have chosen to make these rules. Have them written down and pinned up in a place where everyone can see them.
With this in mind, here are the rules that I would recommend implementing. Of course, every family is different so you have to find the right ones for you and yours. When you’ve worked out what they’re to be – STICK TO THEM!
- Not under the age of three and seriously limited for the under sixes. Just because your toddler knows how to use their fingers to scroll through your smart phone does not make them a genius. Similarly, just because your school-age child knows how to work the laptop better than you do, doesn’t mean they should be permanently glued to it. At this tender age your child’s brain is developing and human beings are programmed to adapt to their environment. They need to interact with the ‘real’ world and not the ‘virtual’ world. So little information comes through a screen and the information that does come through is visual only. Our senses are the foundation of the human intellect – in other words, what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell is all valuable information that programmes our minds. And this can only happen this effectively at this stage. Don’t worry that other people’s children get all the screen time they desire. It’s not a competition and your child will not get left behind. Let them develop their intellect first by interacting with their environment because without it, they are stunted. Trust me, your child will be smarter, the longer you keep them away from devices. Your aim as a parent should be to assist your child’s mind to develop as fully and completely as it can. Sitting quietly in the garden, playing with a lump of mud and a couple of ants for half an hour is valuable brain development. Do not let your child miss out on these opportunities.
- Avoid rules that involve time-limits Some families choose to set rules according to strict time limits, for example, just two hours screen time a day. Personally though, I believe you’re storing up a problem for the future. As technology advances, more and more of your child’s education is going to take place on a screen. All a sudden, a half-term school project will eat into their time allocation and the whingeing and whining will start. You’ll end up giving in and your child will learn that a good moan is exactly what they need to do in order to get the allocation of time.
- Adopt the same rules as the ones you’re insisting your children follow. Once you do allow children screen time, agree on your family guidelines – ones you’ve selected because they mean healthy, happy living. For example, it may mean a family rule where there are no mobiles at the dinner table and that they should not be carried around in pockets. However, if you make this rule, then you must do the same. Don’t tell your child off for fiddling with his phone, while you are scrolling through yours checking your text messages.
- Create a family charging station. Allocate a place where everyone can leave their phone and tablet device when they’re not in use. Get into a routine of doing this with your own devices and your children will automatically copy you. Kids are programmed to learn by copying the behaviours of those around them – do less nagging and more demonstrating how to behave.
- Not in the bedroom. It’s not uncommon to see children with TVs, DVD players, laptops, mobiles phones and tablet devices all humming along nicely as they charge upstairs for the night. This is seriously bad for their health. Looking at screens an hour or so before bedtime makes it harder to fall asleep and interferes with melatonin production – the hormone that induces sleepiness. Children need to sleep properly for the sake of their health. For example, studies show much of childhood obesity could be down to lack of sleep. Bad tempered, grumpy, tired children crave sweets and sugar. Stop this happening by making sure they get a good night’s, uninterrupted, sleep. Make sure your children understand and accept it is NOT acceptable to go online to chat to friends in the small hours of the morning.
- Stay well connected with each other. The very fact that every member of the family now has a choice about who to chat to in the evenings – another family member or a friend online – is all the more reason to ensure that you all stay well-connected. Your regular Family Conference or Meeting is going to be all the more important now. You must keep talking to each other.
- Ensure your child has plenty of hobbies that take them away from the screen. Kids need a balance in their lives. Children who spend hours and hours on the devices have nothing else better to do and are, most likely, just plain bored. Ensure that there is something better. Could you choose a hobby for the whole family to get involved with? Put aside one night a week for playing after dinner board games / scrabble or charades. Kids love acting and posing so why not encourage them to do it in front of the family?
- Get outdoors more. Studies show that kids who spend more time outdoors in nature are not only calmer and happier but also have improved sleep patterns, perform better at school and are less likely to fall into the trap of becoming overweight. Choose outdoor activities for the whole family such as riding bikes and having picnics in the park. For older children, what about night-time walks by torchlight to see nocturnal animals and stargaze? Or, if you have a safe place to do so, light a small campfire in the evenings and cook sausages. All the activities will help you to feel more connected as a family. Better connected families are less likely to fracture, propelling children towards social media addictions.
- Stay safe – be clear on what’s dangerous and unacceptable. Your child needs to be aware of what’s appropriate and not appropriate behaviour when going online. Find out what your child’s school are doing in terms of education. They’ll be far more receptive to receiving and following advice that’s given there, than having a parent over- react and become a permanent policeman. Your job is to guide and support and it’s better to slip this into general conversation rather than panicking and attempting to install bits of software when you don’t know what you’re doing. And if you feel uncomfortable discussing issues such as sexting and the posting of explicit images visit one of the many websites that offer telephone support eg: nspcc.org.uk. You’ll be able to discuss this with a trained advisor.
WORDS THAT WORK
- This is will be our family charging station. We’ll all be charging our devices here when we sit down to eat our evening meal.
- Even though you weren’t keen on leaving your mobile in the hall at bedtime, I can see that you managed to remember to do it.
- That’s great – and it will become easier to remember to do it each day.
- I understand that kids nowadays want to have their phones with them all the time – but as you quickly start to remember to leave it at the charging station at mealtimes, you’ll also see how much more relaxed our family dinners will be.
- I can sense that this isn’t always easy for you – and you’re choosing to do the right thing now.
- This is how we……
- The reason we do this is…….
- This isn’t working well, is it? What shall we do to fix it?
WORDS THAT DON’T WORK
- How many times have I told you……
- Can’t you do as you’re told……
- Don’t do that…..
- I’ve told you once and I won’t tell you again! (I bet you will…)
- Other Mums and Dads don’t have to put up with this!
- You never listen – do you?
- I don’t care what your friends can do…..
For more help, support and information on this subject, read more in: ‘WORDS THAT WORK – How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything”.