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Give up those screen time fights!

By Bonnie Harris:

So much worry, arguing, screaming and power struggles are spent between parents and kids over screen time. The jury is still out on the effects but enough has been written about brain damage, nature deprivation, inactivity, eye damage, etc., etc. to keep parents tethered to a rope yanking their children away from the very thing that fascinates them most.

Video game addictions, Internet obsession, contact with cyberspace predators – all have us living in fear for our children’s minds and safety. Many parents report angry, hostile moods in their children once they are removed from their devices. All very real concerns, which make it very difficult to trust what I am about to suggest.

I have been trying an experiment with some of the parents I work with and finding an amazing success rate. My suggestion is to lay off your children’s screen time.

“Yikes! How can I do that and be a responsible parent? My child will stay glued to one device or another forever.”
“I can’t just let him rot in front of the computer screen.”
“She spends her entire life texting without looking up from her phone.”

Children stick close to forbidden fruit. When they fear not getting enough, they hoard what they can. When they know we distrust and dislike what they love, we actually drive them to it. They have a need to prove something to us when we disapprove of them.

When we yell, threaten, punish, and bribe our children to get them away from screens, we are throwing all our attention and focus on just what we want them to pay less attention to. After we argue and criticize and provoke their anger, is it any wonder they are in hostile, aggressive moods when we do get them off?

My challenge to you is to put attention where you want it and give little attention to what you don’t want.
If you are going to have technological equipment in your house, give your children cell phones so you can stay in touch, and buy video games to please them, doesn’t it seem oxymoronic to then criticize and blame them for using them the way they want?

Set clear standards from the beginning:

  • Keep your children technology-free until they can be responsible handling these devices.
  • When they demand something you are not ready to give, don’t allow their anger and disappointment to bowl you over. Stand firm on your values.
  • When you are ready, get involved with your children. Learn about what they love. Play games with them. Ask them to teach you. Find out what the draw is and be understanding of it. For some children, the computer world is the only place they feel successful.
  • As with television, establish rules that your children are engaged in setting, asking their opinion on what they think is reasonable. Make compromises. Make it work for both of you.
  • Once parameters are clear and followed, count your blessings.

If you find that you and your children fighting over screen time, here are some tips to switch your attention:

  • Put your focus on creating other opportunities that you know they will enjoy. Plan biking trips, martial arts classes, family reading time, time with your attention.
  • Let them spend as much time as they like on their screens. Watch when they get off and what they do then. Chart the time so you see it over time.
  • Expect them to stay on long hours when you first stop fighting about it. Be patient.
  • Try this as an experiment for at least 2 weeks, preferably a month. You might tell your child about the experiment and plan to re-evaluate at the end—or not.

You might be surprised what you discover. Yes, there are addictions, but many children, when given the opportunity to set their own agendas, actually do control themselves and get bored doing one thing all the time.

Bonnie Harris, a parenting specialist for 25 years, is the director of Connective Parenting and is known for her pioneering mindset shift out of the reward-and-punishment model to a connected relationship. She conducts workshops and speaks on parenting topics internationally and is the author of "When Your Kids Push Your Buttons" and "Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You'll Love to Live With". Her website is www.bonnieharris.com.

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