When the screen time becomes too much, and no amount of shouting or punishments suffice, it’s natural for parents to go with the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy. However, that only makes matters worse as the whole family descends into the virtual abyss on their smartphones and other gadgets.
With all that said, there are some clever steps you can take to make sure, at the very least, that the man of the family is managing the smartphone (TV, PlayStation, Tablets, and all other gadgets included) crisis properly and responsibly. The fact that kids love screens is here to stay, but there are ways to get them to interact in the non-virtual world regularly. The first step is to put the subject on the table and talk about it as a family. These 4 tips are also a great place to start:
But Mom, But Dad!
The last thing any parent wants to be is a hypocrite, however hard it is to avoid that sometimes. The new reality of widespread smartphone use makes not being hypocritical a challenge, especially if you yourself are glued to your phone at any given time. Sadly, many parents have caught the smartphone bug, and that doesn’t bode well for the future; for them or the little ones. The first and foremost thing you need to do is to put that phone down and show your children that you are anything but addicted to it. You absolutely can’t be preaching to your kids about screen time when you yourself are stuck texting on it all day or playing Candy Crush. That also applies to dad, even if he does need to check important emails from work once in a while.
The next step is to call a civilized and calm family meeting in the living room to discuss the “changes” that are about to happen. You’d be surprised just how resilient kids can be, even when it comes to change. Explain to them that the screen time has gotten out of hand and that there are some new rules in town. The rules can be simple enough and, if followed, can still give everyone plenty of time on their gadget of choice. Limiting screen time as a family is a great place to start. Simply announce or even write on a black or whiteboard, the designated screen time hours at home, and those that are restricted to family time. Ensuring no smartphones from 7 pm until bedtime means the family gets to spend quality time together, eating dinner, playing a board game, or watching a movie.
If you get too militant right from the get-go, things could come crashing down, and the new screen time plans could be in danger of failing. It’s essential to include the whole family in the discussion when it comes to making the house rules. It’s also advisable to be flexible and show you’re taking everyone’s suggestions seriously and in equal measure. When it comes to the husband in the family, unless something is really urgent, encourage him only to check the emails on his phone after the kids have gone to bed. When they’re dealt with, tempt him to the sofa with a warm cup of cocoa and a good movie to watch – no gadgets allowed!
One of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal when it comes to getting the family together for quality time is introducing new habits. The family may have been in a rut for months or even years, sheepishly peering at each other over their smartphone screen, but it’s never too late. Set aside a specific time to take the whole family to the cinema or to the bowling alley. Spend time hiking and doing treasure hunts in the back yard or open space nearby. Basically, no matter what it takes, try to encourage outdoor time (preferably in a location with no WiFi and no 3G) and keep the smartphones and tablets at home. There is a learning curve, and some adjustment is necessary, but there’s no doubt that perseverance is the key to success here.