The holiday season is a great time for families to take time out of their busy school and work schedules and reconnect with one another. Yet, as many parents will know, striking a balance between face time and screen time can be difficult.
The key-word here is 'balance'. While reading about the negative effects of too much screen time is enough to make every parent want to throw their child’s electronic devices out the window, forcing children to unplug entirely won’t necessarily yield the desired results.
School is a space where children learn, but it’s also a space where they interact with others, play, and develop friendships. For many children and teenagers, staying connected with their school friends over the holiday-break is important, and cutting them off from any source of contact could exacerbate feelings of anxiety and isolation. While many of us grew up smartphone-free and still managed to have friends once the new school year started, the internet has now forged itself as a central pillar in modern relationships - and tearing it down entirely could be hugely detrimental to a child’s social life.
So, instead of confiscating devices or hiding phone chargers, parents should try to find a middle-ground that works for the whole family. For those of you who aren’t sure where to start, here are some tips on how to avoid too much screen time this Christmas:
1. Lead by example: Wherever possible, parents should model the behaviours they expect to see from their children. Kids feel that same niggling compulsion to check their phones that we do, so it could be a rewarding family experience to do a digital detox together. If you have something important to do, such as making a work call or coordinating plans, then consider announcing that. Demonstrating that you’re not just using your phone for entertainment helps to model healthy device use and an awareness of your own habits.
2. Establish mutual parameters: Try to establish a set of rules that the family can agree on. These can vary depending on your child’s age, and what the family is doing. One standard rule is “no phones out during family meals”. Another could be that games are only for when you’re in the car. Or, if you’re away on a holiday, then maybe implement a rule whereby phones can only be used as a camera during family outings, and children have to wait until you are back at the hotel to text or go on social media (tip: put their phone on flight-mode or turn off their data).
3. Think of fun activities: We all know that Christmas can be a hectic time of year. Between wrapping presents, running last-minute errands, and preparing ingredients for a family feast, it can be hard to find time to entertain over-excited children. It’s tempting to simply give them your iPad or let them use their gaming console. But if you’re committed to avoiding too much screen time this Christmas, then try to proactively think of activities for the kids to do while you’re busy. Set up an arts and crafts area and encourage them to make Christmas wrapping paper, let them write personalised messages in the family Christmas cards, or ask them to help you in the kitchen with some baking.
4. Create an incentive: Another way to get children to be mindful of the media they’re consuming is to teach them about earning their online leisure time. Try to come up with a rewards system that incentivises good behaviour. For example, completing a certain chore earns a coupon that’s worth 15 minutes of screen time, and they can choose when to cash that coupon in. Talk it through with your child to establish a system that’s fair (i.e. a maximum of 4 coupons can be redeemed at one time, and coupons can only be cashed in within predetermined times).
Avoiding too much screen time over the holiday period can be hard, especially when so many aspects of modern life tend to rely on modern technologies. However, by taking the time to think of some fun, festive activities and fair rules for the entire family, finding a balance could be easier than you think!