These days, kids are exposed to electronics at very young age. Children play games on tablets before they can even speak. They are taught computer literacy early on in school, and they all seem to have access to smartphones. And let’s not forget the time spent on home computers and watching TV.
Digital technology is everywhere. We’re all guilty of spending a bit too much time staring at a screen. We end up neglecting important real-life experiences, such as spending time with family.
There is a debate over whether to consider too much screen time as an addiction or a bad habit.
A dependence on screens develops from the pleasure gained from using them. Each time we receive a notification on our phones, our brains get a spike in dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. When children play their favourite video and phone games, they get the same effect. In fact, many games and apps are designed to keep us coming back, pressing those same buttons in our brains – and kids are no different.
It’s important to discuss the issues of too much screen time with your kids to help them develop a healthier relationship with screens.
Part of this is showing your kids the fun that can be had in the real world.
How Much is Too Much?
So how much is too much? A dependence on screens makes it harder for kids to enjoy other activities, such as reading, playing board games with family, and playing outside.
Kids addicted to video games are more likely to gain weight and feel anxious and depressed. Kids who spend hours in front of the TV are at a greater risk for developing metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. Screen dependence can also cause angry outbursts and unhealthy sleep and eating patterns.
But there are ways to identify whether or not your kid has a screen addiction.
The following behaviours are warning signs of a child’s screen addiction:
- They lack interest in other fun activities. Especially activities where they can’t use their devices—i.e. going to the movie theatre.
- They constantly talk about their online activities.
- They are always distracted with screens or thinking about their screens when they don’t have them.
- When there isn’t a screen around your child is restless, upset, or irritable.
- Your child will miss family activities or leave the activity early (i.e. dinner) to get back to their screens.
- Their marks in school are suffering because they spend too much time on their screens.
- Your child will ignore or bend the limits you impose on screen time.
- They will lie about time spent on their devices, hiding them and using them in bed without your knowledge.
- Your child craves more and more screen time.
- Your child gets defensive and argumentative when you ask about their screen time.
What You Can Do
If you suspect your child has a screen addiction, or is developing one, try these tips for easing their dependence on electronics.
Write a Screen Time Contract
Specify how much screen time your kids can have each day. Also make clear the consequences for breaking the contract.
A set time limit is crucial. Consider one hour during weekdays, and more on weekends, but never more than an hour at a time. Also include rules, such as no screen time until they finish all their homework.
Giving up screen time will be hard for your kids at first. So don’t be surprised if they throw tantrums, and don’t give in to their cries. Once they’ve developed a healthier habit and routine away from screens, they will meet your rules with less resistance.
Set Household Rules
Make a rule for your entire household to shut off all devices during homework time, dinner time, and an hour before bedtime. Set an example for your kids and don’t cheat or bend the rules for yourself.
Use Parental Controls
Technology these days comes with parental controls you can set to your preferences. Along with blocking access to certain channels and websites, you can use parental controls to limit your child’s time on their phones, computers, and TV.
Since kids who develop screen addictions are more likely to be depressed or stressed out, find out what is going on in your kid’s life. Also make a point to sit and interact with them while they are playing games on the computer or TV.
Showing interest will encourage them to share their experiences with you. This will also give you more bonding time. Your kids need to know that family comes first.
Find Other Stimulating Activities
Kids can get pleasure from other activities away from screens. Take them horseback riding, rock wall climbing, or to an Ottawa family fun play centre.
Encourage Outdoor Play
Have your kids play outside for at least an hour each day. This could be between the time they get home from school and dinner. Try to match their time spent outdoors with their allowed screen time.
Sign Up for Extracurricular Activities
Whether your kids are into team sports, dance, or volunteering, encourage activities that are away from the screen and getting your kids moving.
Try a 72-Hour Digital Detox
Use the tips mentioned above to wean your kid off of screens for 72 hours and let them experience the enjoyment of real-world activities. Once the detox is over, reintroduce technology back into their lives in a controlled manner.
If you can’t get through to your child, and they act out aggressively when you take away screens, consider bringing your child to a therapist. Look for those who specialize in digital detox.
It’s impossible to keep your kids away from screens in today’s digital world. But you can help them understand the importance of balance in life. A health relationship with screens will make it easier for them to unplug and enjoy real life with family and friends.