We use so much energy wondering how to limit screen time. Do we model it more? Pick an amount of time that’s acceptable to us, and enraging to our kids? That’s a battle that most parents are unable to withstand.
Let’s consider a new approach to unplugging: focus on creating more of what you want, rather than on limiting what you don’t want.
Maybe you’re shaking your head. After all, we know the kids (and many adults) are spending hours and hours on devices. Shouldn’t we clamp down on the kids and limit their time to schoolwork and an hour or two online?
I’m not here to tell you how much is the right amount of time; even the experts can’t say for sure. What I can share is a way to focus on what you can do, instead of what seems insurmountable.
Consider the following:
1. What’s missing in your family when everyone is wrapped up in the online world? Connection, conversation, down time, family time, imagination and creativity come to mind. Add to the list.
2. Will establishing a fixed amount of screen time automatically get you more of what you want? (Hint: the answer is usually ‘no’.)
3. Have a family discussion. Brainstorm a list of activities your family can do together: game night, shooting hoops, hiking, bowling, cooking together. The possibilities are endless.
4. Decide on potential times to do the reasonable activities. Remember that not everyone will like the chosen activity; however, each person gets a chance to choose what he/she prefers. Everybody else, show up with a smile!
5. What if you pick a specific time of day or a couple of times a week, for 1/2 hour or so, for everyone to be unplugged? That’s very different from nagging the kids about how much time they’re online. They also know that everyone is participating.
6. Thirty minutes is much easier to swallow than ‘Give me your phone!” or “I’m disconnecting the router.” Talk about a power struggle!
7. The kids especially will be lost. They’re not comfortable without outside stimulation. Too many don’t know how to just sit and ‘be’ with themselves. Some will follow you around the house, looking for company or something to do.
8. You may have to help your child figure out how to get through those 30 minutes without driving you nuts. They could read a book (horrors!), paint or sketch, take a walk, take a nap, stare out the window, do some creative writing, journaling, or brainstorming, with pen and paper.
It won’t happen overnight. It won’t magically reduce screen time to what you consider to be healthier and more acceptable to you.
What will happen is creating family rituals and memories. You’ll be active together. Your kids may learn to be more comfortable in stillness and silence, which contributes to their mental wellbeing.
Contentment with what you gain will far outweigh simply reducing screen time. Let go of the need to control. Let connection to family and self lead the way.
Fern Weis is a certified life coach who learned that caring and good intentions are not enough in parenting. In fact, they are often the problem! Fern supports parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, including addiction recovery. She helps parents release guilt, end enabling and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life's challenges. Her articles are featured in Thrive Global, Medium, Motherly, The Teen Mentor, and Bergen County Moms.
Learn more about coaching and classes at www.fernweis.com. And then download your free guide, "Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk." For information on Family Recovery programs, visit www.familyrecoverypartners.com.