They are everywhere – mobile phones, tablets, computers, televisions. Every parent seems to have the same concern and complaint – How do I get my kids off or away from their device?
It is about setting the standards rather than telling them what to do. Kids mimic, that is how they learn. If mum and dad are engaged on their device, watch excessive television, play regular computer games, frequently check or participate in social media, the child will emulate that behaviour. The difference is a child does not have the same understanding or filters a parent has.
If excess screen time is a problem within your home and you feel your kids are too absorbed by their device there are some steps to take to change the behaviour. First is to set good parental examples.
Boredom is an excuse we often hear of the reason kids are so engaged in their device. A child bored? There are a billion ways a child can entertain themselves IF they learn to use their imagination. There are a billion ways a parent can engage with a child through discussion and activity. Devices often strip these opportunities away from a child and this can lead to problems as they develop.
Where your child is younger, under 5 years
I suggest not taking the device out. The number of times toddlers are seen, head down engaged in a game on mum’s phone while out shopping or driving is astonishing. This is a wonderful opportunity to engage and teach your child. Walking around a supermarket for example talking about foods, shapes, colours is a great learning occasion. Talking and discussing what is going on around you, the people, colours, items, sounds all to engage the senses of the child and raise awareness to their community and environment. Compare this to head down playing a digital ‘educational’ game ignoring the world around them is not in any child’s best interest.
While at home ensure there are activities around for the child to engage with. Toys, balls, blocks, dolls, are all great fun. Pots and pans are great engagement toys as is throwing a sheet over a table to create a cubby house. Then of course we have outside to chase balls, see birds, use binoculars, play in the sand, make sandcastles, so many inside and outside opportunities that boredom simply has no time to infringe.
When a little older, up to about 10 years
Speaking to your child as you walk around the store when shopping, asking them to assist you to make choices and carry things, all engages the child into their world. Singing and talking whilst in the car allows both parent and child to become involved and connect.
Computer games can be used with specific boundaries and times, just not as the go to device to keep them quiet.
They will obviously engage in their devices and social media considerably. It is important to set agreed boundaries around phone and screen use. Regardless if the child feels you are mean; set the rules, advise the reason why, discuss appropriate boundaries, keep a smile on your face, thank them for their comments and move onward.
Heated discussions only drag you into the child’s world and you can’t success when dragged into their world, you can however succeed when you remain in the adult world.
Once a child reaches school age
You can establish a new set of rules or standards for the kids. It is important to share with them the reason you want to make some changes. Have everyone sit down at dinner and let them know you are going to have a discussion about screen time and social media exposure. It is imperative the child understand the reason why. Use information you know like how bad it is to have blue screen time an hour prior to bed as it interferes with our sleep. After some discussion and answering questions it is time to set the new guidelines for everyone to follow, not just the kids.
– Set specific device free days or afternoons for older kids, perhaps Tuesday and Thursday for example.
– Ensure time limitations are implemented so everyone knows how much time is permitted to spend on their device
– Have other activities planned. These can be inside games, discussions, puzzles, outside activities like playing with or walking the dog, kicking a ball together, walking or riding together.
– With younger kids have a look around. There is a magnificent array of items within your home that a child can engage with, using their imagination to create and be entertained
– Ensure no devices are ever at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table as this is family time to be together, talk and share
– Charge devices in the kitchen away from the sleep environment
If we rely mainly on a device to entertain our young children they are missing out on so many learning opportunities. Kids need to learn to read facial expressions and body language, use their imagination, use their voice to talk, listen to understand, notice the world around them and their part in it. All valuable learning lessons a child needs to be able to fit into their world, understand and feel part of their world. A device can prevent this.
Enjoy and engage with your child at every opportunity. They are young only once and while a child is a lot of work, they are also part of you to guide and develop, they mimic what they see and what they hear. Set a good example, speak with them often, engage with them regularly. This is how we develop a close relationship, understand our child and assist them with any issue that may arise.
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