Roll on the summer holidays! No nagging about homework, longer days to play in the garden and no being a slave to the timetable!
But are you worried about your children spending too long on screens and using them as a digital babysitter?An English summer usually has at least a scattering of light showers when indoor activities may be required.
You may be wondering:
“How much screen time should my children be having?” and
“How do I control my children’s screen usage?”
Crucially managing screens should not be about coercion and control - that can only lead to long term problems. The answer lies in connection and communication.
If you think about keeping your kids safe around a swimming pool you can protect them from falling in by putting up fences and setting alarms and using padlocks and banning them from going near, but the most important thing to do is TO TEACH THEM HOW TO SWIM.
The same is true for screen safety. The more we demonise screens and nag and shout and blame and criticise the children and forbid and take away and threaten, the more children will push back and become sneaky. We need to remember that screens have great benefits but that children do need limits and boundaries around their use as well. We also need to remember that when we control we do so to teach them self-control. You will need to employ technological protections so have all the filters and passwords you need but don’t forget to educate your children to be safe and kind online as well. They can get around your external controls so you need to cultivate internal values.
Here are some top tips to helping you find your way through the digital jungle this summer:
- THINK . Begin with the end in mind. What is the ultimate destination? To encourage children to be in charge of technology and use it responsibly, instead of technology being in charge of them.
- DECIDE. You need to decide WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO AND HOW MUCH.
- How much time? We know that when parents set limits on media consumption, children consume less than those without limits. The consensus amongst professionals is no screens before age 2 but after that it gets a bit vague with many experts now being less concerned about amount than type of use. But it’s also about what else you need to do first - eat, sleep, play or practice.
- When can they play or surf or game? This depends on your family activities but not during the hour before bedtime as screen usage interferes with sleep.
- What sites/apps? Watch out for the parental guidance certificates. If we are not ready for our children to smoke, drink or drive why would we think they are ready to use Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto which are rated 18? Refer to media sites like commonsensemedia.org
- Where? Do keep internet enabled devices in a common place where you can monitor them. And have a DROP ZONE where the devices can stay and recharge when they are not being used and always out of the bedroom at night.
- Include the children rather than imposing the rules from on high! Including them shows you are interested in their views. It is respectful to seek their opinion. It works best with children over 8 if you outline what your values are and acknowledge what they would like at the outset. Then ask how you can accommodate both sets of needs. They will probably have some good ideas. They won’t like all the rules –empathise with that and reiterate why you need to have them.
- WRITE IT DOWN. I guarantee you will forget the rules and by writing them down it depersonalises them. Then you have a contract, with both sides needing to respect and abide by it.
- KEEP IT POSITIVE. Don’t have negatively-phrased rules such as “no mobiles upstairs” or “no gaming after 7pm” but rather “mobiles are used downstairs” and “you can game after homework and before 7pm.”
- FOLLOW THROUGH. Often we start by thinking of what we should do when they mess up! But really we should be deciding what to do when they get it right. Adults rarely notice when children get things right. Comment when they follow the screen rules. The positive consequence of following the rules is earning the right to use screens again.
- MODEL GOOD HABITS . Be aware that if your own phone is surgically attached to your hip 24/7 and you are making calls at the dinner table, and taking your phone to bed, it can be hard for the children to accept your rules. You need to model your own values.