Helping older children manage screen time

Younger children mostly use the screen for entertainment and we have explored ways to help them manage time on the screens in our previous article. 


Teenagers however, use screens for communicating with peers, studying, listening to music, reading news, and entertainment etc. We need to take this into consideration before we come to the conclusion that our children are spending too much time on screens.  Though not all time spent on a screen is detrimental, yet as parents it’s important to guide our children and bring to their awareness about how times spent on the screen could be replacing real life experiences and relationships. It can also affect their mental health and lead to isolation and depression. Hence helping them develop a balance is an important skill even for their adulthood.


As explained in the earlier articles, too much time spent on the screen wires the brain to be dependent on the dopamine kick and may result in addiction e.g. commonly one sees girls glued to social media and boys to gaming. A lot of research is now equating addiction to screens being as strong as being addicted to drugs and alcohol! 


This puts us parents in a place of responsibility to help children develop and maintain a healthy relationship with screens. 


ROLE MODELING: Our tweens and teens are watching us interact with mobiles and other devices. They see us glued to our screens quite often - reaching out to attend to a whatsapp ping when they’re talking to us or at the dinner table, checking our work mails at family time, using our phones while driving etc. We cannot expect them to exercise self control whilst we continue to be on our devices. What’s the culture around screens in the whole family?
The other important question is- What are interesting activities for them besides screens?  For teenagers spending time with friends, board games, interesting dinner time conversations, music and sports are some activities which can take them off their devices. 


FAMILY MEETINGS:  Parenting gurus across the world recommend regular family meetings (quite like the meetings we have at office). When teenagers are involved in the decision making process they are more likely to honour the decisions. Family meetings are a space to discuss and mutually arrive at norms for usage of technology.  Sharing research around well being and technology can help them make informed choices. Here are some examples of what parents from our groups have done:


Sushil, a banking professional shares, ‘As a family, we decided to keep our phones away from 7 pm to 9 pm every day. We play board games and listen to music of my son’s choice. I feel closer to my 14 year old since we started doing this.’ 


As per the American Academy of Sleep Management, teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep each day.  And so Rekha and her 12 and 15 year old daughters have at a norm that they will charge the phones every night in the living room and not keep them in the bedrooms. 


Abbas shares how no phones are allowed at the dining tables and that makes meal times very animated and interactive for the family. 


IMPLEMENTING NORMS COLLABORATIVELY: Parents in our workshops share that sometimes implementing limits arrived at together is a challenge. Ruth Beaglehole, a well known parent educator suggests that we make weekly plans with our children about screen time since it’s very hard to have a single solution which can work forever! We can ask them, “What are our schedules for this week?  How do we make plan for fun, exercise, study, screens etc for this week?”  Then come back together in a week, review and adjust for next week depending on the upcoming week’s needs. This keeps it real and alive. They appreciate our flexibility and willingness to see and hear on weekly basis!


This guidance is an ongoing process. When children do not stick to the limits agreed upon, it is really frustrating for us parents. However, nothing good comes out of getting agitated and raising our voice. We need to be aware of our emotions and be regulated to be able to guide them. 'Looks like you are finding it difficult to switch off the phone. I'm going to keep it away as I'm in charge of your mental and physical well being. Let's discuss a new plan in the family meeting.’ 


This way, by keep communication respectful and empathetic we aim to empower our older children to develop self control and balance for themselves. 


Check out this resource to get started on family meetings around norms around technology


Author: Prerna Kalra is a certified parent Educator with Parenting Matters, an organization that promotes parents to build deeper connection within families.