At first it was fascinating and cute watching him explore on the iPad with his chubby little fingers and eyes full of wonder. But now, long gone are the days of the old "out of sight out of mind" tactics for managing screen time.
It was a quick fix that time he was nagging on the bus and you just wanted some peace. Then it became slippery slope to it becoming the school holiday babysitter. But now it's school term and homework is left undone and battles go on long into the night. Setting boundaries with kids can be challenging at the best of times but with technology it presents an even greater challenge. Four in ten children were reported as addicted to the internet in 2014. Games are geared up to stimulate and reward our brains like any other addiction and children's brains are more susceptible. On top of that, research has shown the blue light disrupts sleep and have been linked to adverse health conditions. Our brain is geared up to seek novelty and learn. Attributes that helped us succeed in our evolutionary past. With technology and endless information at our fingertips, 24/7, our brains are having a feast. Our modern day challenge is to learn how to switch off, rest and recuperate. Our kids need to learn this at a younger age in order to thrive in the current environment where there is constant competition for our attention.
Here are 5 top tips to help manage screen time for your kids. (Some of them may seem obvious and you may think 'I've tried that', but read on. We all need reminders of things we "know" until they really sink in).
Have a set after school routine that you stick to during the week. If possible get your child involved in planning it and make it visual. Post your routine poster in a high traffic area at home like on a door or on the fridge. Take one Saturday afternoon and work with your child to draw or paint a daily routine poster. Or if you prefer, design and make a routine chart on the computer. This will reframe the use of technology from that of "consuming" (game playing and entertainment) to creation. Build in an implicit reward to following the routine by getting your child to tick off each item or laminate each task and they get to take it off the wall when it's done.r, design and make a routine chart on the computer. This will reframe the use of technology from that of "consuming" (game playing and entertainment) to creation. Build in an implicit reward to following the routine by getting your child to tick off each item or laminate each task and they get to take it off the wall when it's done.
2. Dinner time is family time.
Set clear expectations for all the family at dinner time. Have a basket where all phones, tablets and distractions are placed for when you're eating together. Set the tone as positive rather than punitive. Dinner time is a good time and space to set out as a technology free zone because it is a distinct time of the day where you're all together and can enjoy each other's company. There's also that incentive to get on with it so they can enjoy munching down on what their noses and tummies have been tantalised with.
3. Give visual limits & Use a Timer.
Time is a very abstract concept when you think about it. Children often feel time passing differently to adults. Use more visual timers where you can like a colourful sand timer or an old school kitchen timer. There are some apps with clear pictorial timers too that can help your child prepare for ending. I know I know, a smartphone/tablet timer app to help limit time spent on a smartphone/tablet. Oh the irony! See what's available, try it and see what helps.
4. Get outside, play chase!
Play chase, hide and seek, and play cops and robbers. This provides a non-screen stimulating adrenaline experience. A lot of the kids I see in my practice are craving more rough and tumble play. Computer games work by triggering an adrenaline response which make them exciting and addictive. Real life safe adrenaline play helps bonding and helps teach children social boundaries and self regulation. E.g, how much force is acceptable in play. Afterwards when you're both all tired out you get the bonus of having calm down cuddles where your child learns how to take rest, relax and feel that rush of oxytocin "love" hormone.
5. Model it!
Probably the toughest step! Children will always absorb what you do rather than what you say. It's how they work! If a picture says a thousand words, your example says a thousand lessons.
Like with most things, how you do it is what you get. When trying to implement any of these strategies, make the process a positive and playful experience. Remember play is their language not talking!
What about you?
What do you struggle with? Which tip will you use with your child? What served as a good reminder to you? Do you have any good tricks to share with other parents? Let us know in the comments below.