How to Remove Guilt from Family Screen Time

Article via Kinderling Kids Radio 

family watching tv

Screen time is such a hot button issue in modern parenting. Often we feel like whatever we do isn’t right. That’s due in part to the mere fact that our childhood simply didn’t involve screens beyond a TV or maybe a desktop PC with average dial-up internet.

When it comes to managing screen time for our kids, Dr Kristy Goodwin and eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant say that there are some ultra-simple guidelines to follow; and all of them revolve around acknowledging that every family has different needs.

Quality vs Quantity

While it is a good idea to set time limits on device and screen use, Kristy also says that we should be conscious of what our children are watching, playing, and using during that alotted time. While there are governmental guidelines from the Department of Health for amounts of time to spend, they don’t factor in the material consumed.

“How much is only one smaller piece of the puzzle,” Kristy says. “We’ve also got to look at what they’re doing with screens when their using screens, how they’re using screens and also who they are using screens with… If we use our guidelines which are based on a child’s chronological age as the starting point, we can then dive deeper and explore the issue in a broader sense.”

Banish the techno guilt

One of the murky undertones of screen use can be fear of judgement from other parents combined with the thought that we are failing our kids when they are using screens. This just fuels our own feelings of guilt for using technology.

Julie insists that this guilt should be banished. Our children are growing up in an era where the concept of a “plugged in childhood” is a reality, and this shouldn’t be stigmatised.

Instead Julie says to consider what the screen is being used to displace. Be it a frequency of video games that are displacing outdoor play, or a face to face interaction being sacrificed for one online. So long as a child’s basic developmental needs are met, Julie adds that we don’t need to fret about how much time they’re spending online. “We (as parents) have to set boundaries around when and how or where they use screens,” She says. “And if we balance their screen time with their green time… we can ditch that guilt.”

Role modelling

It may seem obvious, but our children absorb so much of our behaviours often without our noticing. It’s all well and good to give your children parameters around technology use but if we aren’t giving ourselves the same boundaries, then the messages about a healthy relationship toward screens can be miscontrued as punishment.

Julie adds “there is no use in telling your kids to get off the phone at dinner time when you’re the one that’s checking your Twitter feed… You do have to model good behaviour and put the phone down yourself.”

Educate and engage

With young children, it’s great to make time to sit down and co-view.  Not only does this sound like a good idea, Kirsty points out there’s a huge amount of research that supports it. “We know that children up until 24 and 36 months actually can’t make meaning from 2D screens so in those very formative years, co-viewing is absolutely vital,” she explains. “As children get older if we start to use technology with them they start to understand that it’s just a tool and it gets rid of this notion that technology is something that’s toxic or it’s taboo.”

This focus on education and practicality will set your family up for healthy relationships around technology and communication later in life too. Kristy adds that “if we encourage our kids to use technology with us and that it’s a valuable tool, it prevents kids from driving the behaviour underground where they’re snekaing off to their friends house to get their dose of digital.”

It’s okay to be bored

The whinge of “I’m bored” can be every parents worst nightmare. Kristy recommends you can counter it by having a “bored box” on hand full of things your kids can do with their hands that aren’t screen-based; “When kids come to you and say I’m bored, often we reach for the digital pacifier, for the screen to ameliorate their feelings… Giving them some options about some off screen activities.”

And if none of that works, it’s also really beneficial for everyone, not just kids, to be bored!

Kristy explains that “it (boredom) is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child… We know from a neuroscientific perspective that their prefrontal cortex, which is the basically the CEO of their brain gets to switch off when they’re bored. [This is when] they enter what we call ‘mind wandering mode’… there’s so much temptation to stimulate them just by giving them the screen. Sometimes I think it’s actually okay to let them be bored.”

Set clear and reasonable boundaries

Finally, the techno tantrum can be avoided. It’s not going to be pain-free but if we are consistent with our boundaries, there should be a pay off. Julie recommends we set guidelines right from the start, “let them know how much time they can have on a daily basis, during the week, after homework, after they’ve gottten dressed in the morning… So you’re making sure that they get those basic things done before they get any screen time.”

Plus, it is a challenge and we need to be gentle on ourselves. When we’re not consistent we need to give ourselves a break and not see ourselves as a ‘bad parent.’ Where we can be consistent, when we set guidelines and stick to them, don’t forget to give yourself a mental high-five.

Kinderlink Kids Radio is Australia’s first radio station for kids (0-6yrs) and families. Grab their free entertainment app here.

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