Let's be honest, technology is EVERYWHERE and it is so hard for parents to distract their children, at times it can feel like we are battling a demon.
Life was so much easier when I was a child. There were no phones, no iPads, no YouTube, or the allure of Tik Tok. The only dancing you did was with your friends in front of a mirror, and playing adventure games was something you did for real outside. Those were the best days and I feel sad that the children of today's generation will never get to experience it. But why won't they?
The biggest problem is our fear. We fear our children going outside to play because we hear about awful things happening every single day. Naturally, we want to protect our children and therefore, our guilt for not allowing them outside means we often give in and let them on the other evil lurking around the corner...iPads, and computers. The truth is, these horrible things we read about have always been happening, we just know about them more now because we have immediate and infinite access to the news in a way we didn't before. It's like Pandora's box has been opened and there's no going back. It doesn't matter how much we rationalise that bad things have always happened and always will, none of us are willing to take that chance.
The other problem is that parents are so much busier now than they used to be. The world is moving at such a fast pace and women are no longer expected to stay at home and take care of the children. I wonder what our parents did to distract us back in the day when they needed five minutes to get things done. Maybe they never needed to, because maybe they weren't as busy as we are now. I have no idea of course, but now, it seems so much more convenient to let our toddlers spend a quiet ten minutes watching Peppa Pig on an iPad whilst we get things done. That's where it all starts, isn't it?
Children are introduced to computers at such a young age, by the time we realise it's a problem, it's too late.
In 2017 Bill Gates stated that the youngest age to allow a child a phone is 14, which means that his children were teenagers before they were allowed one. It's a pity phones don't come with a word of advice from the likes of Gates, he's an inspiration that most kids would probably listen to.
If you've never allowed devices into your home, or have been strict from the beginning, hats off to you. But for those of you who worry that you're losing the battle of the screen time demon, let's turn this nightmare into a dream once and for all.
For me, there has always been one benefit to iPads. The fact I can take it away. Until my children are older, I can use their screen time as a big juicy carrot. It's probably the number one leverage I use. I have always been conscious of not letting my children on computers too much, and so incentives and rewards have always been part of my strategy to ensure they don't spend too much time on devices.
When the boys were younger, they got issued 5 minute iPad reward passes (which I printed and laminated) whenever they did something to earn them. They could then cash them in to spend on their iPads. But now that they are older, the iPads are used generally more as a bargaining chip, something to take away from them when they misbehave. Now, our rules are time-based. At the moment, we homeschool 4 weeks on, one week off. During the weeks we homeschool, our day runs from 8am-12pm. After 12pm, the boys are not allowed on any devices until 3pm, which is closer to the time school-aged children would be coming home, and jumping on their computers. We let the boys go on theirs as much as they like from this time. It works well because they get to communicate and play with their friends.
When we aren't homeschooling, the boys are limited to one hour per day on their iPads and one hour on the Playstation. They have to choose when to use this time, and how to break the time up. By doing this, it encourages them to find other things to do and improves their mood hugely. They are more inclined not to grumble when we suggest a walk, because they aren't distracted by their devices, and they understand that if they do moan, it might cost them some of their time.
Screen time will always be a battle for some parents, but it's a battle that can be won...if you are willing to put the work in. I hear too many parents moaning about how much time their children spend on computers, but I can never understand why they don't do something about it. I just want to shake them and say; "but you're the parent"!! I would recommend setting clear boundaries, having rules in place that you know will work, and you know YOU can stick to. Without consistency, the whole thing will fall apart. Remind your children that if they don't cooperate, they will be penalised with a loss in screen time. Try not to ban them altogether, just take incremental time slots off them instead, remember, you're trying to win the battle here. You might meet resistance, to begin with, but once you show your children that you mean business, they will learn to stick to the rules.
Screen time doesn't have to be the enemy. If done right, it can work for you. For example, the 3pm onwards rule works great for us, because it's a time in the day both parents are busy. The hour rule works when we aren't homeschooling because we usually spend that week doing things together as a family. It's no good keeping your children off their devices when you're knee-deep in spreadsheets and zoom calls. Sit down, plan a strategy, and then once you have something solid, present it to your children as a set of new family rules. You may want to give them some time to adjust, build-up to the new rules by reducing time slowly over a week, or just letting them know a date the new rules will come into effect.
Remember, consistency is key. Go on, it's time to slay that demon!