What you can do when the screens are taking over your world - Part 1:

screens in family life how to manage

This topic is huge and I could write so much – I’ve tried to make this as practical as possible because that’s ultimately what it boils down to – how do we positively address the challenges living in a digital age presents in family life?

How do we move beyond adding parental controls and hoping it all turns out ok?. This is part 1 which is really about the foundations – about starting to put in place important connection points in the non digital world which mean our children are more grounded in the face of the challenges the digital world presents.

If you haven’t hit the screen obsessive stage then hooray – I hope you don’t, but as many parents find this is easier said than done particularly in the aftermath of lockdowns.

Screens pose a danger because we are easily led to believe that because we can physically see our children then they are safe.

The online world is amazing. It’s also addictive and unregulated.[1] Having worked with traumatised young people for a large part of my career I cannot emphasis enough the importance of us helping and supporting our children to have a healthy digital life and a positive relationship with screens.

It’s also difficult as a parent because screens sometimes offer that peace and quiet or the opportunity to get things done which you so desperately need. There’s also the added pressure of not wanting your child to miss out on social connection.

Boredom is great for creativity and our children need it, but it’s also very wearing when you are a time and energy poor adult. Sometimes it can feel like the odds are not stacked in your favour where screens are concerned.

So these first few steps are about getting clear on what you want and laying habits and foundations which will help:

1. Know what you want.

Do you know what most concerns you about screens? What do you want instead? What should your child be doing when they’re not online? Instead of missing out what is the gain from your child’s perspective? Instead of focusing on a screen as the problem and potentially making it more tempting get clear on what you want instead? What is missing and how can you move towards this?

When you know what you want you’re more likely to communicate positively with your child and be able to lead and guide them in that direction. For me, my fear is the digital world robs my children (and myself) of connection – with others, themselves, nature, the wider world and that it stifles their creativity. So connection and creativity are important goals to work on. I want them to enjoy screens and the online world in moderation and have the tools and confidence to handle the issues it raises.

What do you want for your child and family?

2. Eat together

Firstly your child has to eat so that’s in your favour from the outset. Secondly research shows that there are huge benefits to eating together. “…results show that frequent family meals are inversely associated with disordered eating, alcohol and substance use, violent behaviour, and feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide in adolescents.” Whilst this doesn’t mention screens – the data doesn’t seem to be available yet – there is a whole heap of evidence as to why eating together helps you reduce the risks of so many things we worry about for our offspring.

“There is a positive relationship between frequent family meals and increased self-esteem and school success.” [2] You don’t have to do this every meal or even every day, but making meal times screen free and a time where you eat together is an opportunity for easy wins and positive investment in your family.

How can eating together work for you?

3. Play together away from screens.

What’s your family thing? If you’re just sat around at home then it’s much easier to slip into a screen habit – they’re just so convenient. Planning time to do things together and committing to make the effort to ensure it’s fun (even with a moaning child) might feel uphill for a while until you get in the habit, but it can be such a worthwhile investment of your efforts.

Outdoor pursuits, board games, hide and seek , craft, cooking – it’s going to depend a lot on your age and interests as a family what works. Swimming is a great one because it suits all ages and it’s much harder to take a device! Whatever it is you do, establishing regular family activities away from devices can be really helpful. Keep them up even when it’s hard work because when it becomes a regular habit children won’t expect screens to be part of it.

How can you build in playing together?

4. Do chores together

children chores parenting

Probably less fun than the previous point, but still valuable for connection and so much more. When we fostered everyone had to help at teatime. There was moaning. There was having to repeat tasks because they were done so badly.

There was arguing about whose turn it was to choose the music - no earphones as this was a time of talking/arguing/connecting - and that did mean enduring some fairly awful “music” from all parties perspective. There was also teamwork, connection and community.

Doing the necessary, boring parts of life together offers many positive benefits[3].

Which chores offer connection and most benefit your child?

5. Create a screen free oasis somewhere in your home

How do we get away from screens and worse the peer pressure and sometimes nastiness in the online world? One small, but powerful step is to create spaces in your home which are screen free (or reduced) which you automatically associate with dial down. Where the angst or tension of the online world is kept at a distance.

For us it’s currently upstairs because I could also visibly distinguish to my children that I don’t invite many people upstairs – downstairs is our “public space” upstairs is “private” Maybe that’s not for you, but perhaps you have a snug or it’s the garden or conservatory. Maybe it’s the bathroom. What it looks like will depend on your set up, but what physical space is free of devices.

Our upstairs is our attempt at an oasis from the world – physically and digitally - we try not to share photos online of our upstairs either . It’s not 100% screen free, but it’s probably as close as we’ll get in real life. Other than the TV in our room and the odd time a phone travels upstairs then we generally keep devices downstairs.

This is so beneficial for my wellbeing, let alone the children’s. It has also caused problems. In lockdown when my then 7 - Yes 7! I wasn’t expecting this at that age - was upset because her friends were video calling her and they all wanted to play in the bedrooms. We said “no”, but we did create a space downstairs instead and take all the toys there too. It was hard work, but for me having spaces which are a private oasis away from screens is important now and into the future.

Will I still have this in place in 5 years time? I honestly don’t know. We were able to curb the screen thing when we were fostering until they hit 6th form so I’m hoping yes, but we take each challenge as they come.

Which space is screen free in your home?

6. Look at what you model – Urgh!

I know this is hard and boring, but it’s vital. If you’re permanently at the beck and call of your phone whilst expecting your child - whose brain is so much more easily influenced - to resist the addictive devices then you’re going to breed a whole load of resentment and frustration.

Expecting your child to cooperate with the opposite of what you do is setting them and yourself up to fail. They need to see it is possible. Don’t ask your child to do something you can’t do yourself – it’s just not fair. Obviously there is the context of age – I’m on a device later than my child, but none of us are allowed to have devices at the dinner table. (It is embarrassing, but eye opening when they challenge guests on this too!)

What do you need to model to your child?

We are raising children in a digital age. I can’t banish all devices from my home and neither do I want to, but I can seek to give my children tools to ensure they manage the screens rather than the screens managing them. I have more blogs to come with ideas to help. I’d also love to hear from you with your ideas.

Watch this space……

building bond with your child outdoors, parenting challenges

You can contact me at:


#parenting #coaching #digitalage #onlinesafety #optimumfamily #parentcoach #familylife #workingparents #gloucestershire #SEND #parentsupport #anxiety

Photo 1 by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash

Photo 2 by Mariakray on Pixabay

[1] [2] [3]

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