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How to talk to your kids about screen time rules

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

Maya Angelou

Talking to your kids about screen time rules can be a daunting prospect for many parents!

Along with the challenge of managing the expected resistance, parents worry about their kids knowing much more about tech than they do.

Here’s the key point to remember: You have a wealth of life experience that your kids desperately need – which trumps the current TikTok or Fortnite fad your kids may know right now. Your kids aren’t able to appreciate the consequences of excessive screen time or the value of delayed gratification. That’s where you come in!

Be confident in sharing your life experience and learning to trust your gut on the digital parenting journey. You may not always be right but you are much better placed than your kids to make decisions from a broader perspective. In fact, learning to make appropriate changes as you go is also a vital life lesson you can teach your kids in this process.

I recently presented to a group of parents who raised this question, so I thought it might be a good time to share a few tips to prepare and deliver “the Talk”!

The right time

The time you choose to talk about new screen time rules can make the difference between acceptance and a full-blown temper tantrum.

Approach ‘the talk’ when everyone is relaxed and free of time pressures.

If your kids are similar ages (less than three years apart) and are likely to have similar screen roles and routines, then you can discuss screen time as a family. But if there is a considerable age gap (more than three years apart), your kids are at different stages in school, or their routines are very dissimilar, you might do better to discuss it with them individually.

Good times to have the ‘screen time talk’ include weekly family meetings, lazy Sunday afternoons and driving in a car with no eye contact. A bad time? Right after an argument about screen time. (Although it’s really tempting when we want to have our say, we learned this lesson the hard way!)

The right place

Where you discuss screen time is also important. While home might seem obvious, it’s not the only place to have a conversation with your kids.

On the one hand, there are many benefits to having ‘the talk’ at home. It’s a convenient, comfortable and familiar environment for your kids. And if you have kids of different ages, it can be easier to manage.

But home is not the only place to consider!

It can be all too easy for kids to seek the safety of their bedrooms. And with distractions at their fingertips, you start off fighting for attention.

Alternatively, having the discussion away from home can bring a fresh perspective – particularly as everyone has taken time out to be together.

TOP TIP: If you’re going to have ‘the talk’ away from home, be upfront. No one wants to go to the park to find that you’ve called a family meeting!

Hey! What’s in it for me?

For all kids – and particularly tweens and teens – lay out the immediate benefits that screen time routine can bring. (Long-term benefits – such as academic success – are also useful but usually less compelling).

Immediate benefits for kids may include:

  • getting mum and dad off their back
  • the potential to earn more screen time and other privileges
  • the independence to manage their screen time – within limits
  • the chance to show parents how responsible they can be
  • a way to stop distractions that they can’t control themselves

And by cutting back on your screen time, you demonstrate it’s not just them making a ‘sacrifice’ while freeing time to spend together as a family.

“Almost 70% of children think their parents spend too much time on their mobile phone, iPad or other similar devices. A study, conducted by Opinion Matters, found over a third of children worry their parents are incapable of switching off their devices.”

– The Huffington Post, September 2014

And remember, how you say it is just as important as what you say! Here’s a real-world example of how to convince older kids to give a screen time routine a go.

The power of questions

What’s the secret to a positive screen time talk?

Understanding that your child just wants to feel – and be- heard.

Not only does this show empathy, but it could shed light on the right approach for your child. (Just be sure to listen to what they say).

They may come up with a tweak to your screen time routine that you never thought of (and if it is their idea, they are more likely to do it).

And if you’ve invested in a screen time solution, remember to highlight to your kids how it can make THEIR lives easier. Hint: Focus on more autonomy and less nagging.

Below is a list of questions you could ask them, courtesy of screenagersmovie.com.

You don’t need all the answers – and ‘the talk’ shouldn’t be a one-off. Take a look at the TECH TALK TUESDAY blog for conversation ideas!

Whether it’s letting them manage their screen time independently, removing homework distractions, setting out their daily tasks, or getting their parents off their back, help your kids ‘share the win’.

Finally, be sure everyone leaves ‘the Talk’ knowing:

  • How to get started with your screen time routine (and solution).
  • How you will review shared progress (and setbacks) together.

TOP TIP: You know the satisfied feeling of recognition you get when your boss writes down your idea on the meeting room whiteboard? Well, kids feel the same in a family meeting. Pull out a sheet of paper, let them ‘take the pen’ and brainstorm ideas to adjust your screen time routine.

It’s good to talk!

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