So the news this week that screen time and social media is to blame for a massive rise in child sleep problems came as no big surprise in our household. First thing my kids do in the morning is pounce on my phone for another round of Pixel Gun 3D. I’m fully aware of the benefits of ditching screens for wholesome outdoor pursuits like camp-building or orienteering, Famous Five-style… but how do you make that happen?
And yes, when they’re glued to The Next Step, it does helpfully give you time to catch up on emails (less great when that morphs into them secretly bingeing six episodes Big Brother on catch-up).
So, full of good intention, we asked two of the UK’s leading parenting pros Lorraine Thomas (CEO of The Parent Coaching Academy) and Noel-Janis Norton (Director of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting) how to break your kids’ screen habit for good… Soldier on, a recent survey of 1000 parents showed 9/10 parents found restricting screen time had a significant, positive impact on family life 😀
1. Ever had that thing where you’re mid-way through ranting at them for watching too much TV, when suddenly, ooh, a distracting Whatsapp message pops up and you lose your thread? Yep, ideally we’re meant to model the screen restraint we’re asking for from our kids – or your campaign loses credibility from the start.
2. Hold a family meeting to agree a screen ethos. Involve your kids in the choices. If they’re responsible for decisions, rather than you running a dictatorship, they’re more likely to make it happen. Get the felt-tips out and create a visual chart or poster (you could even use our cool Personal Stationery Stamps to customise your chart) to show your family’s new rules. Why not go the full hog and get the glitter shakers out too? Focus on prevention, rather than reacting to the problem.
3. Have one or more screen-free days each week. This helps prevent screen-time becoming their go-to, default activity. Apparently, many families find keeping Monday-Thursday screen-free very effective (hands up if you’re one of the saintly few?). This rule means school nights are ring-fenced for hobbies, family time and potentially homework (small groan).
4. If the Mon-Thurs rule sounds too hardcore, start by agreeing screen-free times of the day, every day. Ideal screen-free slots could include: 1) mornings before school, 2) after school for the first hour (before homework or music practice, if you’re channelling tiger-mum), 3) mealtimes or 4) an hour before bedtime. If you’re super-ambitious (and can handle the angry glares from your under five-footers), then try all four sessions. (Not brave enough here at Stamptastic HQ, so let us know how you get on). #screenfreemondaytothursday
5. Commit to having some ‘special time’ with each child, every day, if you can. Harder, of course, the more kids you have, so reduce the length of time accordingly (even just 15 minutes will do). Diarise the ‘special time’ slot if need be, so it’s ring-fenced for you to do something together you both enjoy. It doesn’t need to be worthy. We’re not talking learning Mandarin or playing a ‘fun’ times-table board game. We prefer dancing round the kitchen to Capital FM and messing around with our cool facepaints
6. Use ‘descriptive praise’ – notice and mention the small steps they’re taking in the right direction. Sort of like AA but without the booze and guilty confessions.
7. Use ‘think-throughs’ – ask your kids why it’s better to limit screen-time, to get them to consider the benefits for themselves. More effective and less mentally draining than the ‘barking/banging-on approach’.
8. Make your kids ‘earn’ their screen time by cooperating with your rules. That includes getting off the screen when you ask them to. The first time, not after the 57th request. BUT if they do break your ‘contract’, there HAVE to be consequences, like losing the screen time they could have earned.
9. If all else fails, get sneaky. Find out how to block certain websites or block electronic devices at particular times of day. Now sit back, relax and wait for the yells at 7pm, when they discover ‘the internet’s down’ 🙉
A massive thanks to our experts: Noel-Janis Norton, author of ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Screen Time’ and Lorraine Thomas, author of ‘The 7-Day Parent Coach’ (both out now) who’ve got this parenting lark nailed. See www.calmerparenting.co.uk and www.theparentcoachingacademy.com.