Jan. 12
Annabel Nash   |   

Reducing Family Screen Time

I am not a mother who forbids screen time in its entirety. I believe that some screen time can be thoroughly educational. In fact, in the last few weeks, we have made it a little family ritual snuggling up to watch the hugely successful Blue Planet programme with the great Sir David Attenborough superbly narrating. This series has not only introduced my children to the broader world of the oceans, but I have learnt a great deal more from watching this than I ever did during any school geography or history lesson!

However, that said, I am still aware that screen time is something many parents continue to battle with daily and when you are amidst it, it’s no joke. So, how do we go about implementing limited screen time without causing the next world war in our very own home? Here is a little advice that I have come across over my years of parenting:

Get everyone involved in the family together to discuss the problem

If you have a teenager who spends too much time on their console, but you organize a meeting without them present, it stands to reason that they won’t be the most accommodating if you make the rules without at least giving them a chance to have their voice heard.

Screen time issues can affect a whole family, so it is paramount that everybody is included when you meet to discuss the solution, even bringing in those who don’t really use them. This way, it’s fair, and any grievances can be aired before the ground rules are set.

However, it is important to remember here that as you are discussing the issue as a family, ultimately any rules you make after that will apply to all the family members present at this meeting. That, therefore, includes the adults! Bear this in mind before you call the meeting as being the adult, you will need to set the example, which means not expecting preferential treatment on this subject!

Draw up a list of rules for each family member to follow

As you’ve taken the time to get everyone together and sit and talk it out, it would be wise to write up some sort of confirmation about what everybody eventually agreed on during the meeting! This way, nobody forgets, nobody can come back and dispute and more importantly, with the rules visible it will become easier to enforce them over the next period.

What are the exact rules that you want to implement, and be precise here? There is no point merely reeling off the words – I want less screen time in this house, as this is too generic.

Who are the rules aimed at, how long can screens be on in the evening and are they allowed on in the morning? What are the weekend rules and dining table rules? What are the warnings and what are the penalties if the rules are not adhered to?

It may be a good idea to arrange a collection point for mobiles, tablets, controllers, and chargers to be placed in every evening at a specific time. This ensures that nobody has a chance to bend the rules when they should be in bed sleeping! (Currently a considerable problem for many parents of teenagers in our society!)

Ensure the rules are adhered to and kept consistently

Without a doubt, rules can be challenging to implement, but even more difficult for some of us to follow – and I’m including both kids and parents here! For any family, when a new rule is brought in, it will take time before everybody is familiar with it. In the case of reduced screen time, you may find that this is the subject that gains the most resistance, however, if you persevere and show a commitment to the rules you applied, over time so will the younger members of the family.

Remember, the first few weeks or so will be the hardest. Think of it as an addiction, for it is similar for so many of us, and treat it in this way. The first few days of withdrawal will be the worst, and you will have to toughen up to embrace the onslaught of anger and tears and pent-up emotions. But, this will end, and it will become easier to manage as the weeks go by. Stand firm and remember each time why you felt the need to introduce these rules in the first place.

Finally, remember you are the caregiver, and it is your responsibility to ensure that your children experience as much as life as they safely can. If you felt their screen time was becoming a problem, then you believed they were at risk of becoming addicted, and you made a judgment call. Don’t feel guilty about taking charge and responsibility for your family’s overall well-being. You are the parent, and you have made a rule that ensures the health and safety of your loved ones. Never forget this, especially during the more testing of times.

To ensure this transitional period goes a bit quicker and smoother, why not compile a list of to do things beforehand and keep the family’s mind occupied during the first few days. That way, you not only get to have a bit of fun together as a group, but you also show everyone that there are indeed more things to do in life other than spend their days in front of the screen.

Work at it and get the balance right and you will have successfully conquered one of the more difficult aspects of parenting in no time at all!