Contemplating on what tablet to get your 16-month old baby? Today’s parents face a screen tsunami that is changing the way we interact, learn and live. Children under a year old are swiping, scrolling and playing on screens. Tech has invaded our bedrooms, living rooms… even our bathrooms!
With the exceptionally fast progress of more recent technology, phones, tablets and super-fast Internet have seen accessibility skyrocket, and families are struggling to establish limits on how tech can enhance, rather than detract, from family life. The fact is, exceeding the daily guidelines for screen time is unhealthy and promotes distress rather than wellbeing. An unbalanced approach can result in academic issues, mental health problems, behavioural issues and general health problems. Here are four tips on how to get the screen-time balance right with your family. Image: Nikole Ramsay
Create rules and guidelines
Create family rules or guidelines related to screen time – and stick to it. Consider creating discussion points for a family meeting and share your ideas with your children. Provide a clear rationale for what you are requesting and set up mutually agreed-upon screen-free times. Then invite your children to give their input. If they share a perspective that differs from yours, problem-solve together, and make sure everyone is in agreement.
Keep your personal viewing habits low
Our children model what we do, including our screen usage. We cannot be upset with our children for being hooked on screens if we are checking our social media pages, our email, or browsing the web every six minutes, or gaming or surfing cable TV channels for hour after hour. Yelling at the children to get off their bum and go play outside might work briefly, but our example is a critical element in our children’s screen choices.
Eat meals together as a family without screens
This is key to having a happy family, because research shows that families who eat their meals together have children who grow up to be significantly less likely to drink, smoke, take drugs or experience internalising (depression and anxiety) or externalising (anger and delinquency) disorders. Conflict will be lower. Their wellbeing is higher – and their dietary intake is healthier! It seems the thing that leads to these positive outcomes is not the meal, though. Instead, it is the time that families talk during the meal that acts as a protective factor in children’s lives. Screens interrupt those conversations in dysfunctional ways, and reduce the protection that the family meal offers.
Keep screens out of bedrooms
When screens are in bedrooms, children use them and this can lead to detrimental outcomes. They interact on social media or with networked online games but few quality relationships. Their schooling suffers and their health can deteriorate too. Parents have little idea of what their children are being exposed to on their screens, and may find their relationships becoming uneasy as their children are influenced more by the strangers on their screens than their loved ones in their immediate environment.
Screens can be terrific tools, but we ought to remember that they exist to serve us – and not the other way around. We cannot afford for our families to become slaves to our screens, or the outcomes will all too often be negative. Setting clear limits, being a good example, keeping media out of bedrooms and spending time in wholesome recreational family activities are all useful strategies for making screens work for you rather than against you. 21 Days to a Happier Family by Dr Justin Coulson is available to buy now at Dymocks.