5 Ways to Bring More Screen Balance to Your Family
Meghan Brand Stauf | May 15, 2023
Most parents know how the world has changed since the smartphone's invention and internet access. Our parents and grandparents say that kids don't know what they are missing because they always have their noses in their phones. Our children say that adults have no idea what they deal with daily. They believe they need their phones for survival. It can feel like life or death to lose access to their device.
If you are reading this, you are probably looking for a more balanced use of screens in your family. You may have tried parental controls only to have your child find a way around the limit. Punishments, threats, and bribes to get your child to have a healthy relationship with devices works in the short term but lead to an endless cycle of sneaking, lying, and escalated threats leaving you feeling disconnected from your child and scared for their future.
As a certified parent coach, I have helped many families find a healthy balance of screen use based on mutual respect that strengthens connection and fosters cooperation. In addition, as a mother of a tween, I know the struggle with managing screen time. The following are the five ways to bring more balance into your life regarding screens.
#1: Check yourself—model healthy screen usage in front of your children. Children are very attuned to our behavior. They have been watching us since they were infants. Our actions speak much louder than our words. Make sure you put the phone down when they walk into the room, at family time, and for meaningful conversations. Be honest with yourself about how you are using screens.
#2: Be aware and informed. Gain as much knowledge from reliable sources about the dangers of screen time addiction and the effects of unfettered access to the internet for young children. Understanding that time on a screen can dysregulate one's nervous system. Save conversations about limits for a time when everyone is regulated. On the flip side, learn about the positive skills gained from using a smartphone and being a good digital citizen.
#3: Deal with the child in front of you. What works for your friend's child might not work for your child. Get your child used to the fact that different families have different rules. Blogs and parenting books might have advice, but they don't work for your kid when put in place. Again, you are the expert on your children.
#4: Look beneath the behavior for the unmet need: Ask yourself what needs are met by your child's smartphone or video game use. Help your child find other ways to get that need fulfilled. For example, if it is a need to be social, in what ways can you facilitate time with friends in person? Does your child have a big meltdown when asked to move away from the device? They might need a nutritious meal, fresh air, or movement. The parent's job is to help the child learn to recognize their physiological needs and to help them get those needs met.
#5: Set limits from core values. Take the time to develop and define your core values. When you set a limit from a deep belief you have previously shared with your child, they are less likely to push back. And if they do (because that is their job, especially teens), you can stand confidently in the limit. You are less likely to be reactive and more likely to be receptive and open to connecting with your child. There will be more room for your child to feel seen and heard. When a child feels seen, the basic human need to belong is met, and they are less likely to go elsewhere to fulfill that need.
We can place parental device restrictions and punish our children when they break the rules. However, that ignores our children's unmet needs and causes conflict and disconnection. Our goal is to connect with our children so we can guide them and help them become responsible citizens. When we set limits from our core values, the relationship stays intact, and our child's motivation is intrinsic rather than rooted in fear of punishment. When the child's motivation comes from within themselves, grounded in a belief that they are worth the effort, they are more likely to make healthy choices. When we model healthy habits, resource ourselves with reliable information, and stay attuned to our children, we can stand confident in the limits we set. The result will be a harmonious relationship based on respect, health, and love.
For more information, resources on this subject, and any other parenting topic, go to IHelpmoms.com
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