Are screens a huge hotspot in your family?

Do you feel that screen use should be about balance but find setting limits consistently really tough?

Would you like to enjoy the precious time you have together with your kids instead of competing with their screens and devices?

You’re not alone. We all worry about the amount of time our kids spend on screens, how they’re influenced and what they’re seeing and doing.

Here’s an approach that will give you clarity and confidence while retaining that all important connection with your children.

1. Define your family values around screens:

Think about your values and expectations as these will be reflected in the rules you set around screens. Getting clear on our values gives us clarity, direction, and confidence.

Here’s an example from our family:

  • Screen-free family time is important, and this includes meals, outings, chatting time and having fun.
  • Screens are just one part of a balanced healthy life which includes sleep, exercise, social interaction and exploring our passions and interests.
  • Screens are a privilege and with that comes responsibility.
  • We take an interest in what we each love about screens.

Managing screens is especially hard for tweens, teens. They need our help, our modelling, and our guidance.

2.  Rules without relationship lead to rebellion:

This is a reminder that before we talk about setting rules and limits, we need to take responsibility and keep working hard on all the small daily interactions that build our relationship with our kids. It’s the safety, the emotional support, the respect, the enjoyment, and the connection that our kids feel that helps them be open to our influence and guidance.  Focusing on our precious time together, taking a genuine interest in their passions and interests (including screens), validating their feelings, pointing out all the things they get right and staying clam are just some of the things that help our kids feel close.

3. Setting limits around screens:
  • Involve your kids and communicate.  Have open, non-judgemental, and respectful conversations about screens. Do this often and when you’re all calm and relaxed, and not in the heat of the battle. Talk about what they love about screens. Ask what worries them as you share your own values and concerns.  Talk about what you all miss out on when you’re on screens. As author and paediatric psychotherapist Tina Payne Bryson suggests, think, and talk to your kids about what they are NOT doing when they’re on their screens as well as what they are consuming when they are. She points out that kids are missing out on time for reflection, being bored, face to face relationships and certain creative outlets. There are lots of great things about technology and connection online, but the research reinforces that it’s our repeated in person relational experiences that have the MOST important impact on wellbeing and healthy development.
  • Listen so that your kids feel heard and understood. We don’t need to agree but we need to try and get it.  It might sound like this: “so you love the challenge of the battle, but you also love that it’s a game you can play with the friends you don’t see all the time. I get it.’
  • Acknowledge and validate the emotion. Setting limits on screen use is an emotional process. The pull our kids feel not only to have fun but to feel validated, included and involved in what is their world is real and phenomenal. Perhaps try: ‘you probably feel that you’re the only one who doesn’t have their phone in their room at night. You feel that you’ all miss out on things. That could feel stressful. ‘
  • Agree on the rules and the limits that reflect your values.  We help our kids feel safe as we instil our values by modelling them and through setting respectful limits and boundaries. Begin and end with empathy: “we know this is hard. It’s our job to help you get into good habits and to keep you safe. We’re going to start in one area which is the evening.  Getting enough sleep is vital. You’re good at handing in your phone even though we know it’s hard.’  Get their input and if they can’t agree then empathise with how hard it feels.
  • Think about areas for limits. Think about the where, when, what and who questions such as screen use in the car, after homework and jobs, before bed and family time as well as what they might be watching and playing online.
  • Agree on the what ifs.  What if they find it too hard to keep to the limits? Agree ahead of time what will happen. No surprises. Involve the kids: ‘what do you think the consequence should be for not putting your phone away on time?’ ‘When you put your phone on charge outside your room at 8pm, then you get it back for 15 minutes before school. Makes sense.” Agree and write it down.
  • Embrace non screen activities.  Change can be hard, especially when it comes to screens.  Supporting our kids to find balance with non-screen activities and interests and relationships is important. As parenting is 80% modelling, we need to lead the way with a balanced approach to sleep, exercise, fresh air, work, family and relationships and a healthy amount of screens.
  • Acknowledge all the tiny steps in the right direction and empathise with how hard it can feel.

Managing screens and setting limits is hard for all of us. Start with one area and one step at a time.

Be kind to yourselves and remember that sometimes challenging work is about helping your kids take on your values, adopt good habits and make good choices in a complicated, tough, and rapidly changing digital world.  For more help and support with managing screen time in your family, why not get in touch for a FREE discovery call.

Heather Rutherford is a parenting coach, and a partner coach with Careering into Motherhood. To learn more visit Heather’s profile page.