One of the most common fights between parents and kids is over media. Media time is fun time for kids. They look forward to it, enjoy it, and when it’s time to turn it off…well, you know how the protesting, yelling, and big emotions go. To stop the fights when it is time to stop screen time, we need to invest a little bit of time and thought into how we structure our child’s media use. Fortunately, these are simple strategies that you can read about now and be using by dinner time.
All media rules need to make sense. If they make sense, your child will appreciate that there is a reason for the rules. You need to have a rational for your media restrictions – not just, “because I said so” or “I hate screen time.”
Explain why time is limited for your child. Maybe you limit it because of media is addicting, it takes away from time playing outside, or the advice of your pediatrician (or D: All of the Above). Explain why some types of media are off limits. This might be because of your family values, the violence of something, or how old your child is (or D: All of the Above). Talk to your child about there are good times to use media because it is fun and relaxing, like before dinner or on Saturday mornings. There are also bad times to start screen time because it makes you late or stressed out, like right before you need to leave for school or when you still have homework to do.
Talking about all of these scenarios is important to help your child understand the “why” of screen time rules.
If your child feels that your rules are reasonable and make sense, they are much more likely to happily abide by them.
On the other side of the coin, if your rules don’t make sense, be open to a conversation with your child about shifting the boundaries. It may be time to adjust your rules.
If you are the one taking away media constantly, it feels bad. That is because you are likely to get big emotions from your kids. It’s not their fault – screen time is highly rewarding. Instead of you being the bad guy taking away media, shift the “bad guy” to another object: a timer or an alarm. This is powerful because all you are doing is enforcing something, not being the bearer of bad news. If possible, give a warning that screen time is about to end to prepare your child (“I think you only have about 5 minutes left!”).
The ability to decide how to use their media develops decision-making skills and self-regulation in children. It also removes emotionality around media by placing some control back in their hands. This can be something simple, like picking which episode of the show they watch. For older children with a bit more independence, it might mean giving them an hour of iPad time, but they can choose from many different games/videos during that hour.
Over time, as your child is confident that they will get their screen time, they will begin to make choices with it. For instance, they will delay using their media time, until a friend can join on a video game. Or they may divide their hour of screen time up, like playing on the Nintendo Switch for a few minutes before sports practice and watching videos after. This is exactly your goal! Self-regulating media without a fight.
Your child’s eventual ability to delay the super rewarding media is a sign of growing self-control in your child – and a sign you are doing it right. Plus, that feeling of control will make them less likely to argue when their time is over.
Show your children what good, non-emotional, self-regulated media usage looks like. Limit yourself to appropriate levels of binge-watching shows, doom scrolling news, and social media stalking.
It can be hard for kids when they their screen time devices are forced to be put away, but adults are free to leave theirs out and use them whenever.
There is of course a reason for this. Often, parents are using their device for communication or work. A simple strategy is to announce what it is you are doing. Something like, “Let me write this quick email for work.” Or “Let me text Mimi about something.” Or “I am going to read my e-book for a while.” After you complete that task, put your device away.
If your children see that you are also working on having healthy media habits, they will be less inclined to argue about the rules you have set up to ensure they develop healthy habits as well.
I am an award-winning scientist, educator, author, and a mom. I help parents accomplish their goals for themselves and their families.
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