Screen Time or Scream Time?
By Anne Andrew (excerpted from her upcoming book What They Don’t Teach in Prenatal Class: The Key to Raising Trouble-Free Kids and Teenswww.anneandrew.com/book.html.)
One of the biggest causes of upsets for parents currently seems to be the battle over screen time. Studies show that too much screen time is not good for children, and screens need to be off for an hour or two before bedtime or sleep can suffer. Social media is adding stress to teens because of the need to be camera ready at all times and the huge potential for abuse. Policing screen time is an unwelcome but necessary chore for parents these days.
When my children were still in elementary school I became so frustrated at the incessant watching of TV, and my inability to do anything about it, that I took the TV and placed it on the sidewalk for anyone to take away. My children remember that with horror to this day and I am not particularly proud of it—it was just a demonstration of my being upset because my mistaken belief that “I’m a failure” was triggered. Had I been armed at that time with the Choose Again Six-Step Process, I would simply have processed my upset and then dealt with screen time calmly as a problem to be solved. My equanimity would have guaranteed that the kids would have been willing to participate in a conversation about alternatives to TV, reasons why it needs to be limited, and priority-setting—how to decide which programs to watch and which to abandon.
Those were the good old days when screen time only involved TV and video games. Now, with smart phones and iPads, Snapchat and Instagram, screen time is a whole lot more complicated, infinitely more accessible, and much more of a minefield for parents and children. Still, the basic approach will be the same:
First, process your own upsets around use or misuse of screen time by you and your children. Remember that this is not about screen time, it’s about you. It is highly likely that the underlying belief is, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a bad parent,” or “I’m useless, worthless, or inadequate.” Remind yourself who you truly are—Inherently Worthy. From a neutral, emotion-free standpoint, it will be easier to set limits and be firm in applying rules around screen time.
Next, find out why your child thinks he is engaging in screen time. A few possibilities:
Helping him to process his feelings will be useful in trying to help your child reduce or limit screen time. The underlying beliefs that screen time covers up are likely some combination of “I’m alone,” “I’m not good enough,” “I don’t belong,” and “I’m not worthy.” Reminding him that these are not true and that his Worth is Inherent will go a long way to easing any changes that need to be made.
If you have raised your children to know their Inherent Worth, and to have a sense of purpose, they will be less likely to fill their available time with screen time. Leading by example will be the best way to help children to deal with the pressures of the screens in their lives. Have a box by the kitchen table to put cell phones into during meals. Be sure to have screen-free family activities such as neighborhood walks, board games, chores that are done together, and opportunities for giving back to the community as a family. Having a sense of purpose and positive connections with family and friends will work as an antidote to the excessive need for screen time.
In many families, screen time is a useful babysitter. Be gentle with yourself if this is your reality. Gradually over time as you move from fear-based parenting to love-based parenting, you will find yourself more relaxed and increasingly able to find time to share fun activities with your child that don’t involve screens. It can be very helpful to set this as a goal.
What is your biggest challenge around screen time? Let me know in the comments section below.
Anne Andrew is a Parenting Consultant in Vancouver, BC. See www.anneandrew.com for more.
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