By Bonnie Harris, Connective Parenting
Feeling powerless in the face of the digital landscape of your home? Think you need to don your police uniform? The technological tsunami has most parents afraid and holding their children in lock down. But anger and resistance from a parent who has brought digital access into the home is illogical to the child. Actually, simple logic will help.
Fighting over screen time is symptomatic of underlying issues just like any other inappropriate behavior. It signals a problem or miscommunication in the relationship. If you are seen as a controlling parent, and you alone determine the limits on screen time, your children will naturally try to grab every minute they can regardless of how angry you get. As with everything else, if you have a respectful, trusting, open, non-punitive, non-threatening relationship with your kids, you will be able to agree on schedules. It comes down to relationship. A good relationship also means that your children enjoy spending time with you as well as technology.
When any new device enters your home, accompany it with its own set of rules and instructions like anything else you want your children to respect. This is your opportunity for problem-solving and negotiation among family members. Too often families don’t make the effort but instead direct children what not to do after the unwanted behavior happens. When withdrawal of screen/phone privileges becomes the consequence, any hope of coming to agreement is lost. Cooperation does not happen when children fear that what they want most will be taken from them.
Screens are potentially damaging to our children’s brains if not limited. So take the responsibility that is yours and keep young children away from screens altogether, model responsible use yourself, and when devices are introduced, negotiate limits with your child right from the start.
Don’t let screens intimidate you. You are still the parent. It is up to you to provide the environment you want for your children, to model the people you want them to become, to introduce nature and beauty, to stop your busy lives and go out to explore what’s off the grid. It is unrealistic to expect your child to turn off these highly entertaining devices and decide to go outside, especially when you stay in leading your workaholic life or tied to your own devices.
There is not one way to set limits on screen time as it depends on your kids. You can allow a responsible, engaged child more leeway to self-monitor than one who finds his only solace on a screen.
Discuss the how, when, and where conditions around a new phone, device or game. It’s more difficult once problems arise but basically the same:
- Schedule a time to make decisions. Not on the fly. Scheduling time highlights the importance.
- If you have absolutes, state them right away, own them as yours. “It is important to me that there is no screen time when there is outstanding homework or chores. Does anyone have any problem with that?”
- Discuss time. “What do you think is a reasonable amount of time for…?” State what you think and negotiate until you agree.
- Discuss when and what days. Begin with open discussion, “What makes sense to you?”
- Discuss gray areas: weekday use, mornings, weekends, etc. If your child is being resistant or bored by this, try, “Here’s what I think should happen. Do you agree? Remember we are staying on this until we agree. This is not about me telling you what to do.”
- Discuss what’s off limits, i.e. restaurants, short car rides, the dinner table.
- Write down all agreements. It may or may not be necessary to all sign a contract.
- Post the agreements until there are no longer questions/your child can self-regulate.
- Reevaluate after a one-week experiment to access how the agreements are working.
- Expect reminders and allow a few minutes leeway for agreed on times.
If resistance is high, avoid fighting and wait for the reevaluation. Explain then that you have noticed the agreed on time limit was too hard for your child to follow and a new agreement seems necessary. Your point of view must be that the resistance indicates a problem your child is having rather than your child being the problem. Keep reevaluating until it works.
So many children, especially ones who feel incompetent in school, have finally found success online. When parents criticize that success and threaten to take it away, the cyberworld looks like a far happier place to be. When the home and school environment meets children’s needs, the Internet becomes merely an adjunct entertainment.
Bonnie Harris, MS Ed, director of Connective Parenting, has been a child behavior and parenting specialist for twenty-five years. Based on her highly acclaimed books, When Your Kids Push Your Buttons and Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live, Bonnie counsels parents via phone and skype, teaches parenting workshops, leads professional trainings and speaks internationally. The mother of two grown children, she lives in New Hampshire where she founded The Parent Guidance Center. To learn more, visit her website at www.bonnieharris.com.