Technology is a lifesaver for keeping in touch with far-off friends or keeping up with favorite TV shows. But it is also a huge thorn in the side of modern parents. While we hope for just one more hour in the day, our children — somehow — have all the time in the world for screens and social media. It’s gotten to the point where parents wonder if it’s even possible to limit screen time. “Is it realistic?” they ask me. “I’m worried about the effect it has on my child.” So here’s a five step guide that should be especially relevant during the holidays, when time off from work and school mean more time for screens.
Some structure around computer use, screen time, and mobile devices is always good, but it’s even more important over the holidays. Disrupted schedules mean we stray from our daily routines, which can increase family conflict. So, set a framework ahead of time. If you’re a two-parent household, talk to your spouse and make sure you’re on the same page. Notify other adults who are involved in the care of your child, again to make sure there are no gaps in enforcing the structure. Then have a conversation with your kids: “On vacation days, you can have one extra hour of screens, as long as you do your chores/eat a vegetable/complete your homework/help with wrapping, etc.” When they adhere to the structure, be sure to give specific praise: “Thanks for working well with our family holiday plan!”
Be clear and patient when discussing appropriate social behavior and how it connects to social media usage — and don’t forget to demonstrate the same behavior you want to see. Remind your children that when they’re posting comments and photos your social media behavioral expectations of them are the same as your expectations for in-person social interactions. If the comment or photo is mean-spirited or crosses a boundary of trust, it should not be posted. Remind them that if something online is hurtful to them, they should come to you without fear of judgment.
The key to helping your children with ongoing, appropriate screen usage is remaining involved. If you are clued-in, you can maintain the positive momentum you’ve started. Ask your children what sites/apps they use and make sure they’re shutting down at a mutually agreed upon time.
You know what your children like and what motivates them. You can use this to keep your screen plan on track at a difficult time of year. Let your children know that if they adhere to the plan, they can have an extra holiday cookie, play a fun game, or add something to their holiday list.
Start a dialogue
Talk openly and often with your children so they know they can come to you, no matter what. Even if what they’re going to tell you isn’t ideal (i.e. “I was up until 2 a.m. on my iPhone and I’m exhausted.”) Praise them for their honesty and make a plan so that it doesn’t happen in the future. Working together you and children can make sure the family benefits from technology instead of fighting about it.
Mandi Silverman is a child and school psychologist at the Child Mind Institute and is an expert in disruptive behavior, parenting, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder.