It’s a hot topic in most family homes. How do we make sure that we’re not over-indulging in screen time? The temptation to keep on Minecrafting, or scrolling through Instagram, or just checking your Facebook newsfeed again to see if anyone’s posted something new, is a powerful urge. We know as adults how hard it can be to step away from screens, so for our children, it can be an almost impossible task without some clear guidance or boundaries.
Setting those boundaries though, often leads to arguments, accusations of unfairness or hypocrisy, tears and tantrums (and that’s just the grown-ups!). By this age bracket around 35% of children already have a smartphone, and 74% play games online for more than 10 hours a week*.
Thankfully there are some useful tools around to help children and adults navigate this tricky area. Childnet has a brilliant guide called Screen Time and Healthy Balance, aimed at the 7-11 year old bracket, which uses quick activities to get families talking and thinking about the topic. Activities include getting the children to make a list of signs that they notice when they’ve been online for too long, such as eyes hurting, feeling thirsty, parents telling them to put the tablet away. Then they are encouraged to list what they could do to respond and find a balance.
Other suggestions include making the idea of balance as visual as possible, perhaps using an old-fashioned balancing scale to put weights on to represent things they enjoy doing online on one side, and other things on the other side – the idea being to find the healthy balance rather than one side being weighted down.
In our parent talks we often discuss how to help children navigate screen time. It’s something most parents worry about at one time or another. Our top tips are:
Stay engaged with what they do online. Play the games, watch the YouTubers with your children. The more engaged you are, the more chance you will have to influence what they are doing online and the more chance they will come to you when problems arise, as you have already shown an active interest in their hobby.
Create screen time rules together rather than imposing from the top. If children are involved in deciding what’s reasonable they are more likely to stick to it. Let them make a chart, maybe with rewards if they stick to their goals all week.
Talk to them regularly about risks of being online – not just predators or scammers, but tiredness/headaches/lack of sleep. All of them add up to our digital wellbeing.
Help them be selective about their online time. If they are mindlessly scrolling through the suggested videos on YouTube, help them to evaluate whether it might be better to spend their screen time hours actively choosing what to watch, rather than taking an algorithm’s suggestions.
*stats from Internet Matters