“Hey mum, can I play minecraft?”
Moan, groan, moving on.
Wait up! What just happened here? Moan, groan, moving on. Moving on?! Where’s the negotiation and fight and stress and all the usual carry on that goes with declining a child’s request to use a device?
It comes up in so many of my sessions with kids and families. The glorious but also dreaded iPads, Xboxes, playstations, computers and tvs which can be the source of so much family tension. Frustrated and deflated parents mixed with frustrated and determined kids. Not good.
There are many ways to manage this problem. Here's just one of them...
One my go-to strategies for helping families navigate difficulties around screen time is to have the parents introduce structure around the use of screens. The simplest way of doing is to introduce screen free days. It’s easy for the parents because it’s a no-brainer – if it’s Tuesday and Tuesday is a screen free day the answer is simply ‘not today’. It becomes manageable for the kids because it’s very predictable, the negotiations are not entered into so they learn not to bother on those days.
It goes like this. Have a discussion and come up with the day/s (include the kids if they are old enough). Write up the screen free day/s stick it on the fridge for all to see, have discussions about what other things they enjoy doing and how they might fill their time on those days (just plant the seeds for this, kids will figure it out). The days can be changed once a term, but don’t change any more frequently than that otherwise it becomes too unwieldy.
Here’s the typical hesitations I get from parents:
1. “Are you kidding me?! My child will throw things at me, call me names and scream til sun down!” My response is usually something along the lines of, “well it seems that’s what they are doing now anyway when you say no to screens, so how about we help your child learn other ways of dealing with frustration, and create an environment around them that is conducive to being able to do this. By the way, less screen time may well be helpful with this (after the first week when they’ve gotten used to it)”
2. “I don’t know, life is too crazy for that we’re all over the shop and every week is different and I don’t even know which days we’d go screen free.” To which I usually offer an alternative take on the situation along the lines of “you know, when life is crazy and busy, having something that is set and structured can be incredibly helpful. Just pick you day/s and go with it.” And then I often get…
3. “But what happens if it’s Tuesday and we’re stuck having to go to an appointment and I want him to wait quietly while I attend to things? He’s so used to just being able to have the iPad at those type of times and it works so well.” Yep fair point we are indeed creatures of habit and that can be tricky to break, and screens are handy in those moments. But other things work in those moments too. Ever been stuck at an appointment without the iPad, or it’s gone flat? Does your kid like to draw, read, do puzzles, play cards, daydream even? In this case I talk to the parent about strategies for how to help the child wait, or what strategies work for getting them to be cooperative (some kids easier than others obviously!). I’m not using rosy-coloured glasses here, this can be the tough end of parenting especially with energetic or persistent kids, but it is possible to be at appointments, or waiting to pick up another child from an activity, and have your child not needing a screen. Just takes planning and strategy, and effort. Parenting can be a tough gig, but we got this.
4. “You don’t get it my kid is obsessed with Minecraft, I mean I wish he wouldn’t play it all but there’s no way he’ll go a day without it.” Yep some kids sure to get “obsessed” with games. I actually think Minecraft is quite a good game, but like all screen games it can be incredibly absorbing. The good thing is because it’s such a phenomena there are boundless other Minecraft related things to do. Which means you can take your kid’s love for Minecraft beyond the screen - there are books (to research worlds and gaming techniques, or Minecraft fiction books), Minecraft lego, toys, and so on. I recall one screen free day when my son, who was desperate to play Minecraft, spent an hour crafting, with cardboard, a minecraft costume of sorts and took himself outside with his bow and arrow and “played” Minecraft. Gold. Of course it doesn’t always go down like this, but we fist pump when it does! Other days they’ll moan and mope around about how terribly boring life is, and yet life will go on and tomorrow will come. AND, they’ve had an opportunity to learn to tolerate the uncomfortable feeling of boredom – and you’ve had the opportunity to learn to tolerate the uncomfortable feeling of being with your whingey or upset child! Then at the end of the day you can both hopefully take time to connect and enjoy thinking about the nice moments from the day (that were there in amoungst the boredom and whingeyness).
5. “My kids have homework that has to be done on the computer.” This one I think is the only exception. Unless you also want to ban homework in your house, which is a viable option! But if homework is to be done and it’s computer based, make it clear which device is used for homework and where it is used. Keep a monitoring eye on it and set a limit (no homework needs to endlessly go on..).
6. “My 16 year old has her own phone, plus social media is a big part of her life…” Okay, that’s a whole other blog post .. stay tuned.