Help! My kids are slaves to screens

Parenting Class in Norwich

Photo by Hal Gatewood

Screens are here to stay. They are a modern delight and problem, depending on which side of the screen you are.

It’s not actually the mobile phones, ipads or televisions that are the issue – it’s our child’s, and indeed many adults, inability to regulate the amount of time they are in front of a screen.

Playing an Xbox game or swiping a phone brings instant gratification and immediate control of what we see and hear. It raises our dopamine levels, telling our brains to go, get more.  It’s a very powerful medium to regulate, especially when it’s the gateway to all your friends.

A lot of parents use control to modify behaviour – ‘If you don’t … then …’  Negative consequences force children to comply. This works for a bit but it is difficult to keep enforcing rules and giving consequences, especially amongst siblingsI found that arguments about how I was policing the rules took precedence over the behaviour that I had a problem with.   Also, control runs out – what works for a 5 year old, won’t for an 11 year old and in turn, for a 15 year old.

I’m not against control – it’s important to have a line in parenting but influencing your child to learn how to manage their own screen time can be much more beneficial, for everyone, in the long run.

People self-regulate because they know the new behaviour they get will serve them better in the long term; or because another person is worth more to them than their existing behaviour.

So how do you influence the behaviour you want to see in your children? The first step is to model the behaviour yourself? Do you regulate your screen time?

Next, figure out what your problem with screen use is and how you are negatively affected by it. Does it affect you, personally? Or do you just not like it? Do you not like it at certain times of the day? And why is that?

If the negative effect is on you, then tell them. Be respectful. ‘When I talk to you and then you go on your phone (non-blameful description of their behaviour), I have to wait until you stop because I don’t think you can hear what I’m saying (the negative effect it has for you). I find that really irritating (the feeling this negative effect creates in you)’. 

Then Stop, listen and acknowledge your child’s reply. ‘So you had an important message on your phone. Ok, I get that, but waiting for you to finish your chat, when I’m trying to make tea, is not very respectful (Behaviour, Effect, Feeling)’.  Listen again and repeat, until YOUR message is received and understood.

If the negative effect is on them, ‘I’m really worried (feeling) when you’re on your game for over an hour (behaviour). You start off really cheerful but by the end you seem to be really grumpy (negative effect FOR THE CHILD). Listen and repeat, until your message is received and understood.

Does this get instant results? No (this is real life). But it is a powerful way to tell your child that their behaviour has an impact on you and them. It gives them the option to modify their behaviour out of consideration for you, for themselves and for others outside the home. .

These are 2 skills that are part of an approach that will fill your family life with respectful talking and listening.  This will help you build stronger relationships with your children and equip them with the life skill of self-regulation.

Andrea Rippon is a Certified Parent Educator, running Parenting Classes for Parents, Carers and Grandparents in Norwich. She is Mum to two teenagers; daughter to her elderly parents; and the owner of Sam, a rescue dog. She helps parents build strong, long-term relationships with their children (from toddlers to teenagers), using evidence-based communication skills.   www.parentingclass.co.uk  

This article was previously published in the Eastern Daily Press (Archant Newspapers) Family Section on Friday December 8, 2017. 

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