Weaning the Screens – Martine Oglethorpe
There is no doubt we have all experienced a huge increase in the amount of screentime we have had this past year. And for many of us that has meant giving in to an amount of screentime for our kids that we were not entirely comfortable with. But in essence, it purely and simply became a necessity of life. We have kids at home doing remote learning and parents trying to juggle those demands whilst still continuing to work from home. We have screens as the major form of information and education, for entertainment and for socialising. Many kids spend many hours on gaming devices just to get their fix of connecting with their mates. Many parents had to concede that extra time kids had on devices, just so they could do some uninterrupted work, or simply have some time out for themselves. As kids head back to school and as we hopefully work toward experiencing some semblance of normality again, I know many parents are worried about how all that extra screentime will play out. What will be the effects of that time on screens? How will I get them back to enjoying other interests they previously enjoyed? How can I get them outside? Off the games? Socialising face to face? If you have asked yourselves these questions at any time over recent months you are certainly not alone. There is no magic bulletproof answer to these questions as each individual child, family, parent and expectations are going to be vastly different. But here are some guiding principles to help you manage this time, and look toward weaning the screens.
We don’t need to go completely cold turkey just because our kids are allowed back to school, back to playing outside, or back to organised sports or activities. If your child has spent a good part of 2 years socialising via online games, group chats, or social media, then this is not something that is going to come to a complete standstill. So try and wean back the time on the screens. Gradually lessen the reliance on those devices with shorter sessions and a gradual reintroduction of all those activities they once enjoyed. It may mean you start with 30 minutes less screen time, start an hour later, get off the screens 15 minutes before you usually would at the end of the day. Whatever rules and boundaries you have in place, try slowly cutting back some of that time in order to free up some extra precious moments in every day.
Talk to them
Sounds like a no-brainer but rather than lecturing them, hiding devices, pulling the plug out of the wifi, be sure to have a conversation about why it is important to get back some of that precious time and attention that we previously handed over to the screens. Recognise and empathise with them about their need to use devices to be educated, informed, entertained, and socialised, but also explain how we can now move beyond the devices to have those needs met. For our physical, cognitive, social, and emotional wellbeing, we need a wide range of experiences, exposure, and real-life connections in order to thrive and grow going forward.
As parents and carers, we are not immune from the pull of the screens and devices. As many of us increased our own reliance on digital devices during these times, we may also need to be paying close attention to where our time and energy are being spent. So make sure your young people see you unplug at certain times of the day. Make sure they are not seeing you answer emails at the dinner table. Make sure they are seeing you take regular breaks from the screen, get outside and active and witness you using a variety of ways to be informed, entertained, and connected to the people around you.
It is not an easy feat to change habits they may feel fully entrenched. But with some small changes to behaviours, some conversation around the role technology plays in your lives, and the importance of maintaining control over those devices, we can help instil in our kids the ability to better regulate their own behaviours and slowly but surely wean those screens.
Martine is an accredited speaker with the Office of the eSafety Commission of Australia, has a background in secondary education, a Masters in Counselling and is a mother to 5 boys. Through her personal and professional work with families, she recognises the important role technology plays in the social and emotional wellbeing of young people.
Martine is a keynote speaker for parenting and education conferences, presents to parent groups, works regularly with students and provides professional development to teachers. She has a passionate interest in helping families safely navigate the modern world of parenting in a way that offers understanding as well as practical and realistic strategies to empower parents to teach, guide and support their children. She has recently released her new book “The Modern Parent: Raising a Great Kid in the Digital World” which is available for purchase from her website themodernparent.net