Everybody knows that TV isn’t great for kids, but most of us allow our children screen time on a daily basis anyway. I find that when we severely restrict access to technology our kids have better attitudes, fight less, play together more, and exercise more creativity. But even with those benefits, I still admit that I let my kids use screens way too much.
I’d wager to guess that many of you, like me, would love to see your kids glued to screens less frequently. However, it’s hard to figure out how to do that without losing our minds – either because our kids will then demand our constant attention or they’ll argue with us trying to get their way.
Thankfully, it’s possible to wean your kids off of screens, but it takes a little effort. Here’s how to make it happen.
Recognize Your Responsibility
It might be hard to accept, but the reality is that your children’s addiction to screen time starts with you. Admit it – cartoons are effective babysitters when you just want to get some work done in the middle of the day; it’s easy to hand over your phone to a preschooler who’s whiny and impatient while you’re waiting in line; it’s pure bliss to turn on technology when you just need a BREAK. We’re as addicted to the reprieve that screens give as our kids are to the screens themselves.
But now, the good news: The addiction started with you, and that means so does the cure.
Put on Your Patient Pants
It will be tough in the beginning, but like breaking any addiction – it will get easier. Psych yourself up for a bumpy start so you’re emotionally prepared. Be ready to exercise more patience with your kids than usual, and be prepared to hold firm in your “no” – regardless of the whining and tantrums.
Quit Cold Turkey
Keep the screens off for one week. No computer games in exchange for reading time. No TV news program in the background for noise. No quick 20-minute cartoon while you’re cooking dinner.
Your kids might drive you bananas and challenge your resolve. But you know what will happen after the first few days? They’ll stop asking. Or if they do ask occasionally, they’ll start to easily accept your “no.”
Expect Your Kids to Entertain Themselves
No doubt you’ll hear “I’m boooooooored!” Rest assured, this is not a disease nor does it cause irreversible developmental damage. Just respond simply with “I’m sure you’ll figure something out!” They might lie on the couch looking pathetic, but again, this is not fatal.
It’s annoying, yes. But you’ve got your patient pants on so it doesn’t bother you, remember?
If you really can’t handle it anymore, sit down with your child and help them make a list of all the things they could do to fill their time. Remember, your child should be doing the most brainstorming here. You’re just guiding them.
And if all else fails, give them a chore to do.
When You Reintroduce Screens, Set Clear Boundaries
It’s easy to fall back into bad habits – so set your family up for success and establish firm boundaries around how you’re going to handle screens going forward after your detox. Whether your kids get 30 minutes of video games a day in exchange for 30 minutes of reading, 2 hours of cartoons for a lazy Saturday morning, or one movie a week, make the expectations clear – and enforce them. If your kids know that you’re serious about the rules, they won’t whine so much when you’re consistent about turning down their requests outside of your boundaries.
And if you find yourself needing to repeat a screen-free week because poor attitudes or behaviors have returned, do it.
I’ll be completely honest here: I was elated when my son was old enough to turn on PBS Kids by himself on Saturday mornings so I could sleep in. But over time it became clear how easily a convenient little respite could turn into way too much time spent watching cartoons and playing Minecraft. And while we all know families that don’t even own a TV (which I actually think is totally amazing), that’s just not something that our family is interested in.
Instead, we need to find a way to strike a balance between curing boredom by mindlessly using technology and enjoying it for appropriate entertainment. Thankfully, most of our children don’t actually have full-fledged “addictions” to their precious screens but rather have just developed poor habits around entertaining themselves.
So if you want to help break them those habits and encourage their creativity, mama, you can. It’s up to you.