I used to dread calling time on technology, especially after a particularly tiring or stressful day. I remember thinking ‘I’d rather eat my own head than have a battle with the kids over turning off their chosen entertainment’. Ridiculous as that sounds, I know it’s a daily battle for some parents. More so as, at the time writing this blog, the whole world’s on lockdown due to the Corona Virus. Don’t worry parents, help is at hand and the eating of your own body parts is not necessary to make this issue disappear. So, let’s start like I always do by looking at facts.
Long periods of time on a computer screen is not good for adults, never mind kids. Posture-ally (I don’t think that’s even a word!) , visually and mentally it’s good to take a break! I notice a difference in my own mood and behaviours if I’ve spent too much time lost on my phone, and kids are more sensitive to this level of simulation. This is well researched and well documented.
Equally well known, is that some forms of online entertainment are addictive so it’s only natural that calling time on it can be tricky and lead to raised emotions.
On the plus side the right games/technology are great escapism, they aid creativity, simulate social interaction, open up a world of opportunity and they are simply good fun! We all want a bit of that! I see how happy it makes my kids, it gives me opportunity to put my own oxygen mask on first , work, write my blogs ( 🙂 ) and I want to support that without feeling guilty and it always ending in an argument or unhealthy outcomes. So, here are my top tips 🙂
DISCUSS AND AGREEE CLEAR EXPECTATIONS – You will note that the first thing is to discuss. I find that randomly introducing new rules without some level of discussion doesn’t work in our house. I’ve said this before, kids want two things in their lives; control and attention. By having a discussion and laying out your motivations (Reduce conflict, to have healthy levels of enjoyment and a happy home) you could be lucky enough that the kids come up with something that works without you having to set the rules. By ‘clear exceptions’ I’m talking about something measurable, here are some examples. (Lots of devises have a setting that calculates ‘Screen Time’, therefore making this easy see)
- 3 hours a day but never more than 1 hour per session
- In the morning and afternoons between X and X
- A maximum of X hours per day and X minute per session
When thinking about the total screen time, I differentiate and allow more time for games that are educational, involve interaction with friends/family, TV series/cartoons/films and limit other games. NOTE: even if a game is educational, a break is important to protect their posture/eyes and get them moving. Also, plan and encourage a limit first thing in the morning (TV is ok first thing but no iPads before 9am is the rule in my house as I know my son would be up at the crack of dawn if he knew he could start playing games!) and a good break before bedtime is important for us… giving time to wind down before sleep.
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS ‘Introducing the idea’– ‘I’d like to try something new with the playstation. I see how happy it makes you and I’d like it if at the end of your play we didn’t have a battle. I love you, and I really care about looking after you ….. etc. etc‘. Re-enforcing your rational helps the kids to understand you’re not just doing it to be mean. ‘Screen-time’ has almost become a dirty word, rebrand it to something fun and pleasurable, which is exactly what it is if not over used. Right now, it’s a life saver and so I don’t want it to be a source of conflict or guilt.
PUTTING IT INTO ACTION- some practical options.
- Put a timer in the room- with an alarm and agree that when the time is up, they stop. You could even put it for 10 minutes before the end and let them have 10 minutes snooze (wrap up time). This approach is clean and non negotiable.
- Agree an end that’s more flexible. (You might find you need a good foundation using option 1 before you move onto this) Next time when it’s nearly time to finish pause the game and ask how much longer until you are finished (this may be minutes, the level they are playing or ‘until they’ve finished the putting the roof on their new build’). Make a deal (again measurable). It would irritate the most rational of people to have someone cut them off right in the middle of something they are enjoying so letting their session come to a significant end will make them more likely to accept the decision without conflict.
- Measure the number of games/lives – you can have 3 games of Fifa, 5 lives, 3 ‘respawnings’, last man/woman standing etc…
- Call time 10 minutes before tea is ready or before you want to leave the house… accept that it take time to wrap up and avoid the conflict and augment allowing a bit of time for delay. Expecting a child to go from being in engrossed pure pleasure to nothing in seconds is unrealistic. By managing your own expectation, this alone can take the heat out of the situation.
Whichever approach resonates or works for you the basis is that the approach need to be objective and measurable if you want to avoid miscommunication or conflict.
CONSEQUENCES AND REWARDS- like most things in life, consequences and rewards play a big part. Agree up front the consequences, if you get an argument you will remove time from their next session or incentivise cooperation – ‘I’m so happy with how you’ve finished without a fuss that I’m going to …’ <insert your own house rules around rewards>. If there is no consequence or reward, most rules fall flat. I use both, I give extra bonus 10 minutes for good behaviour and I deduct time for the opposite!
As I said at the start, kids like attention, and whilst I’ve never understood or been interested in gaming, my son loves it. I see how animated his is when he’s telling me about his latest victory, his new Minecraft build or how he’s won another character for his collection and so on that basis at the end of his sessions I ask him some questions. Allowing him to talk about his time is an extension of his enjoyment and gives him positive attention rather than me having a constant feeling of dread with anything ‘gaming’ related.
If your kids are already unhealthily dependant on technology for entertainment I’ve written a blog that you will find useful – Click here. I’ve also got a thing in our house call ‘Bob the Box’ which is something that helps the children to ‘know what to do when they don’t know what to do’. It’s simply a box with pieces of card in. Each piece has written on it a suggestion of something to do using all the toys and things we have in the house.
There are so many variables with this topic, different kids, different technologies, different games etc but hopefully some of the principles above will resonate with you. If you wanted to discuss your specific family dynamic and challenges, please get in touch. I’m sure there’s a solution that will work for you!
Good luck 🙂