So many families struggle with conflicts over “screentime.” If you’ve ever wished a “Super Nanny for Screens” would come to your home, these podcast episodes could be the next best thing.
I recent got invited to meet with a family who was struggling with their kids’ intense devotion to their digital devices for NPR’s Lifekit podcast series. This charming family was brave enough to let NPR’s Anya Kamenetz and I into their home to help them help all find a healthier balance with tech. The parents were at their wit’s end. All three kids are deep into their screens and mom and dad were ready for some new ideas! They were sick of fighting over screentime.
You may recognize your own family in aspects of this family’s experiences. Their youngest child kept whining for the iPad, the middle child is gaming constantly, the oldest seems lost to her phone. While I couldn’t wave a magic wand to fix everything, just having the conversation with us seems to have set them on a path to more intentional approaches. Here’s a summary of the advice I shared with them At Your Wits’ End With A Screen-Obsessed Kid? Read This.
Get Kids’ Perspectives
It is important to listen to the kids’ perspective on technology. Their 5, 11 and 14 year old children all had some great insights on the role digital devices play in their lives, including some acknowledgement that having some limits on their time on screens might be a good idea. On the other hand, we should resist blaming all negative behaviors and moods on technology.
Their 14 year old pointed out:
“[People always say] the iPhones are the only reason kids are depressed and can’t sleep and have all of these problems — not stress from school, from other people, from other things happening,” Abby says. “It’s never the only reason.”
This is so important! It is easy to blame tech for everything, but a deeper conversation with a child or teen might reveal other issues that are worth exploring.
The hosts of the Parenting Lifekit series also spoke to a family where mom is an avid and experienced gamer and the family plays online games together…You may want to listen to that episode, especially if you have an avid gamer. This family is playing what their kids play, and they know about their kids gaming because they are experts. The more time your child is spending on a certain game or app, the more you want to understand the experience it offers. Why are certain games so tough to walk away from? Why might one game be a better fit for your child in terms of content or interaction style? This episode dives into some of these questions and the hosts advise:
Look for what’s positive about your kids’ screen time so you can help those positive things grow.
Parents: Model Good Choices
The final episode of Lifekit’s parenting and screentime series is called “Parents: Check Your Own Screen Habits.” In addition to mentoring, rather than simply monitoring, it is also crucial to model thoughtful behaviors yourself. For example, are your behaviors around tech and sleep aligned with the way you want your kids to behave? The folks from NPR also summarized some excellent ideas and resources in this handy article: 5 Strategies for Coping with Screen Obsessed Kids.
Want to influence your kids to put down their devices? You can model great texting and social media etiquette, you can put your phone down at mealtimes and when your child is talking to you, and you can be conscious, overall about not using technology to avoid difficult moments in the family. Many of us want to use our phones to “check out” when the going gets rough with our kids…but that can exacerbate the problems.
I was so happy to chat with NPR for this series. Their other parenting Life Kit series on raising awesome kids, and on discussing difficult topics are also filled with research-based and compassionate advice. Parenting is hard work and we’re all so lucky to have these resources for support and inspiration.
*One important point passes very quickly in the podcast episode, so I want to highlight it here. If your kid has special needs or is struggling with mental health issues, be sure to bring a qualified therapist into the conversation about digital well being. If you don’t know anyone, your child’s school counseling staff may have a referral.