Tech and Family

Helping Parents Navigate Screen Time With Their Kids

There is no doubt, technology has helped many families during the pandemic. From connecting friends over video to keeping the kids from going crazy during shorter “remote learning” days.

However, that has led to an increase of screen time and negative impacts.

Screen time has been an issue for parents for years already. For some time already parent resources such as have been warning about the dangers of excessive screen time for kids[1]. (There is even an article on how screens are killing the “imaginary friend.”)

If kids 8-18 were spending upwards of 7 hours a day[2] on devices before the pandemic, how much more time are they wasting there now?

What can a parent do? What is a healthy amount of time to spend on devices?

What the experts say

Many health sites, such as don’t give suggested limits for how much time kids should spend on devices. However, they do suggest that for kids under the age of two that unstructured play is essential for healthy brain development and that they learn better from live interaction than video.[3]

The reality is that hard and fast rules rarely work and aren’t even fair considering that students are increasingly required to use computers for schoolwork. The key, experts agree, is that parents are involved with their kids and monitoring how much time kids are online and what content they are viewing[4].

Sharing Power

The truth is like most things in life, challenges such as screen time allow parents to interact with their kids in meaningful ways.

For example, the team at the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development teach that helping our kids negotiate helps them develop into healthy adults. Negotiating our needs is a key mark of healthy autonomy as an adult. This is what KPICD calls “sharing power” or “giving voice.”

Here is how it looks for families with screen time.

Let’s say dinner is on the table so you call the kids to get washed up. Immediately junior starts to panic and act out. What is the issue? He has been working for 45 minutes to beat a hard level on his game and is just five minutes from nailing it.

Sharing power means that you can offer him a compromise (or he can request one). What could that look like? Perhaps you ask how much time he needs to complete the level. He says five minutes, and you agree to it knowing that it will likely take a bit longer. This is compromise. It share some of the power of the decision with your child.

Obviously, there are times when a compromise doesn’t work. But the more you work with your child, the easier it will be to say “no” when necessary. The point is that screen time is inevitable, so you might as well take advantage of it to teach your children critical skills for adulthood.

Modelling Good Habits

One of the most powerful ways to change the behavior of children is to model healthy habits. This means that parents need to turn off the phone as well. Some key times would be:

  1. During meals
  2. 1 hour before bedtime
  3. During family time
  4. While driving

You can’t expect your child to adopt behavior if you don’t model it.

Also, if you take away something from your child that is enjoyable, maybe even a way to cope with stress, you need to replace it with something. The reason video games and screens are so addictive is that they tap into the reward centre of the brain, releasing the hormone dopamine when something amazing happens, or a level is complete[5].

Do you remember how hard it was to wean your toddler of her soother? If our kids are truly addicted to their screens (a distinct possibility), then we need to wean them off as well.

Activities that build relationships are powerful antidotes to screen time. So, go for walks. Play ball outside. Go for a swim. Or play board games. Just don’t opt to watch yet another movie together because it’s easier than engaging. The key to countering something like screens is to give a child what they were created to enjoy, attachment to their caregiver.

It might seem strange for a computer store to post a blog on healthy parenting, but the truth is we value family. We want your family to be strong so that our community can be strong.

This summer, determine that you won’t allow screens to become the default for your kids. Plan ahead to make sure you don’t take the path of least resistance in parenting. Your kids will be better for it!