I previously blogged about some of the dangers of screen time – some of the specific concerns and then what is likely the greatest harm of screen time. As parents, we want to keep our kids’ screen time from getting out of control. When we thinking about ways to reduce screen time, there are a number of effective strategies. But before we jump into strategies, let’s review a few parenting principles first. These principles need to be in place in order for any screen time strategies to work.
- Avoid trying to control your kids. They are likely to push back against that. And the more that you try to control them, they harder they are likely to resist being controlled. This is a well-documented phenomenon in the social sciences known as psychological reactance.
- Instead of spending time trying to control your kids, invest time in trying to connect with them. The quality of our relationship with our kids is directly connected to our leverage of influence. The stronger the relationship we have with our kids, the more likely they will listen to us.
- Use the Magic Ratio to build positive relationships. Research has found that a ratio of about 5:1 positive interactions (e.g., supportive words, pats on the back) to negative interactions is found in healthy, effective relationships of all varieties (e.g., marriages, friendships, parent-child, teams). Ensuring that we follow this Magic Ratio in our interactions with our children is likely to build the type of positive relationship that allows us to have greater positive influence in their lives.
- Be a role model with your own screen time. We shouldn’t expect our kids to respond well to our requests (or demands) to limit their screen time when we aren’t managing our own. Importantly, we don’t get a free pass just because it is work. Screen time is screen time. It’s like if we are trying to get our kids to have a healthy, balanced diet when we are eating junk food all the time. It just doesn’t fly.
Having a strong relationship with our kids will put us in a much better position to influence them in a positive way. If we have a negative or adversarial relationship with our kids, it’s more likely that they will want to push back or do the opposite of what we are promoting (or enforcing). So, before we look to managing our kids’ screen time in any way, we must first ensure that we have established a positive relationship.
An Ounce of Prevention
I have always loved the old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” With regard to screen time, this couldn’t be more true. Screen time is alluring for so many reasons – to all of us. With a click of a button we have access to practically endless possibilities. I think of The Cat and the Hat story in which it was, “Too wet to go out and too cold to play ball. So we sat in the house. We did nothing at at all. So all we could do was to Sit! Sit! Sit! And we did not like it. Not one little bit.” Well, that just doesn’t seem to apply to this day and age! In fact, it’s a problem that too many kids prefer the video games and digital gadgets to going outside and finding something to do. The easy access points that technology affords kids is so challenging to overcome.
I have a deep-rooted belief (and I can back this with empirical support) that children, and the rest of us, still will find it deeply rewarding to be engaged in activities with other people in the real world. Evolution has hard-wired us to want to be active, outdoors, and in face-to-face relationships. If we can learn to put boundaries on the Siren’s call of technology, we can open doors to more deeply-rooted happiness.
So, here is where the ounce of prevention kicks comes into play: get your children involved in other activities. Now, I’m not advocating that you fill their every waking hour with activities – there can be a problem of the over-scheduled child, for certain. There is much value in free time and free play. Still, if we leave it all up to our kids, there are legitimate reasons that they will be seduced by screen-time Sirens. Thus, we go for the ounce of prevention route as our first step in managing kids’ screen time.
Getting Kids Plugged Into Life
Here are a few ideas of getting your kids unplugged from the screens and more plugged in to life:
– Martial Arts
– Math Pentathlon
– Boy/Girl Scouts
– Volunteer/Community Service
Not that this should be the rule of every family, be our family rule is that our kids must be involved in at least one activity. It’s not an option for our kids to not be involved in an activity, but we give our kids the power to choose which activity (or activities) they want. Also, they are not required to commit to an activity long-term. But, once we sign them up, they do need to stick with the activity until that season/cycle is complete. With three boys, it’s quite challenging for me and my wife to have our kids involved in too many activities – it creates a logistical nightmare! As parents, if we require our kids to be involved in activities, we can trust that they will find some that meet their psychological needs. Importantly, this process will naturally place some boundaries and limits around screen time.
In my next blog, I will discuss how to get your kids involved in these other activities in greater detail.