Last month I published an article about playing Fortnite with my son, and the effects of extended-use gaming. The article received a lot of attention from parents who said they could relate. I repeatedly heard, “When I ask my child to get off the computer, they freak out! How do I reduce their computer use without tantrums?” With summer approaching and long days ahead, the struggle is real. Here are some practical strategies for parents.
Reduce Computer Use With Fewer Complaints:
When I talk with parents about their kids’ computer usage, I try to be realistic. Most likely, their kids, like my kids, often exceed the recommended time limits. AND most likely so do their parents (myself included).
Set pre-established time limits
Talk with your family about how much media use is happening now and set a goal for reduction. If your child is younger, give them warnings when they are close to their limit. You can use an egg timer or stopwatch as a visual. I love online monitoring apps like these reviewed by Common Sense Media, which can help kids and parents see where their online time is spent. They also allow for extra time to be added to their child’s “bank” for parent-set chores or rewards.
Be a good role-model
Telling your kids to turn off their devices while scrolling through Facebook, or even completing online tasks for work, likely won’t be effective. Kids are more likely to do what you do rather than what you say. If it’s important to you that they get off their screens, you should adjust your behavior accordingly.
Designate screen-free zones and times
Establish places where devices don’t go. This could include bedrooms, dinner tables, or family get-togethers. Our family has a rule that phones are off-limits for everyone in the car. This sets up good habits for future drivers, by modeling safe driving habits. It also allows us to emotionally connect with captive audiences! I also don’t allow electronics at the dinner table and in the bedroom past 8:30pm (audio such as a podcast or music are the exception).
Replace rather than eliminate
Behavioral change is easier when an unwanted behavior is replaced by a more desired behavior rather than by just trying to eliminate it. Sign your kids up for a club or team. Make and eat dinner together. Take nightly walks. Try new activities together, even something simple like cards or board games. We recently bought mountain bikes to take on the local trails. By connecting in these ways, you will automatically be disconnecting from the internet.
Create dead zones
This summer, our family is going on a trip with extended family. I look forward to uninterrupted time reconnecting with rarely seen relatives, and getting schooled by my sister-in-law in Scrabble. Although there will be the option to purchase wifi at the hotel, we will be opting out. Sometimes the easiest way to set restrictions is to make the option unavailable. Take a trip to a more remote location, set sail on the open seas, or just leave all devices at home while exploring your city for the afternoon.
Discuss the benefits of less screen time
Most kids respond better to explained reasoning rather than just a “because I said so.” Talk with your kids about why time away from the screens is important. Too much computer time can lead to muscle pain, eye strain, and headaches among other things. Experts also link too much computer time to sleep and mood problems. And it can impact personal relationships and limit creativity. Ask your child how they feel their computer use affects them and help them see how reducing media consumption may work to their benefit.
It’s important to note, that even with the most rational and well behaved child, some push-back is to be expected when you ask them to stop doing something they love. Be calm, empathetic (even if you don’t understand the draw) and consistent. Your efforts will pay off!