What you can do when the screens are taking over your world - Part 2:
10 ideas to help when your family are constantly on a screen or arguing about them!
The pull of devices can be strong – not just for children, but the grown ups too. There isn’t a magic formula or fix all. (Sorry!) Throwing out all devices might be tempting at times, but even my 79 year old mother in law acknowledges that, like it or not, they are an unavoidable part of life
So if you can’t avoid them, how can you ensure that their benefits outweigh the costs to your family life?
Here’s some alternative ways to keep the balance between digital life and the old fashioned offline world for the whole family. They’re not shortcuts – some are even the long way round, but sometimes the most convenient route isn’t always the most beneficial!
1. Sharing devices
Sharing devices such as tablets and games consoles is definitely not an easy or convenient route. However, it does make it much harder to spend endless amounts of time on a device or to get so possessive over it. When each person has their own set of devices then it’s easy to spend more time on them and it’s potentially much more frustrating for your child when you take “their” thing off them.
When devices are shared it shifts the dynamics. If it’s “the family tablet” then everyone gets a turn and it automatically limits how much time one person can spend on it and how it’s used. This might be a choice between difficult and hard, but sometimes there are no easy routes – just the most positive difficult route!
2. Make device smartness work in your favour
Ending time on devices can be a breeding ground for conflict so this tip is one of my favourites because it’s been one of the most helpful to me.
Once you’ve agreed where you want your boundaries wherever possible use the screens to help you implement them. In an increasingly “smart” world make the smartness work for you. One utter gem we discovered was filtering mac addresses via the router. Once we’d agreed times to come offline with our teenagers we set the router to switch off the internet – just to their devices. Genius!
This not only saved me hours of me vs teenager arguments on a school night as “Just 5 more minutes!” became 10 or 15mins and lots of frustration, conflict and getting wound up before bed time! It also helped protect our relationship and work together because it just automatically went off – in the moment it wasn’t me turning it off and “ruining the game” it was a third party.
Finding a third party to help - can enable you to focus on supporting your child through the emotions which come with transitioning off a device rather than being the person who caused it!
With my younger children we currently set a timer to tell them when screen time is up. When the timer tells them and then I help them it feels much less confrontational and much more collaborative.
3. Have a spare mobile – preferably a proper old brick one!
Smartphones can bring both complications and benefits. They’re great for our children to be able to contact us in an emergency and they bring challenges. Whether your child is overspending on them, misusing them or just overwhelmed by the pressures and addictive nature of them there may be times when you need to set limits, but it can be difficult if that device is essential for certain aspects of life.
When we found ourselves in those difficult moments - the teenagers had lost their phone or smashed it up in anger – we didn’t want to just bail them out instantly, but we did want them to be safe and to be able to contact us. This is where keeping a spare mobile – an old pay as you go mobile – for emergencies really helped. It meant they could still go out with a phone for emergencies as well as (hopefully) teaching them a bit about taking responsibility.
4. Look at what else is going into your schedule other than gaming.
Whilst I’m very wary of overloading children’s schedules you can use your routine to help. Consider these questions: Does your child do activities outside of school and home? Do you regularly do things together as a family? How much is nature part of your routine? Do you still read stories together in the evening? Do you build in trips to the park or going outdoors into family life? Do you have board games or craft activities at home you could leave out for your child to engage with if they are off a screen? If your children are used to doing these things then it becomes part of the rhythm of family life. Having regular activities booked in or routines of what you do means less option of spending all day on a device. These rhythms and routines prevent a vacuum which is then often filled with devices.
This is just as applicable to the adults – if I don’t actively consider how I might use a spare few minutes it’s all too easy to scroll my way into all sorts of worm holes! I’ve actively sought out things I might do in the evenings whilst watching tv in order to get me off my phone.
5. Be the boss of where your attention goes.
If like me you easily find yourself dragged down internet wormholes when you only intend to have a quick check this is another useful tip I was given. Turn off notifications. I’d also add put your phone on silent – you can always set certain contacts eg school to override the silent setting.
Notifications are deliberately designed to lure us in. Most are red – a colour which indicates urgency. It’s highly unlikely that you need to urgently check Facebook or to know the latest drama in the parent’s Whatapp group. Mute them. Hide notifications. Do what ever you need to and ensure you are the boss of when you check your messages. Use the capabilities of your device in your favour so you’re not constantly under that pressure to respond or so easily lured in. It’s then much easier to model the behaviour you want to your children.
6. Invite useful tips and wisdom to come your way
What do you need to be hearing and seeing so you feel equipped and supported?. Think about where you can get easy advice from. Here’s a few I personally find helpful:
Common Sense Media - https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
Young Minds - https://www.youngminds.org.uk/
To follow on social media:
Lisa Damour - https://drlisadamour.com/
Kirsty Godwin - https://drkristygoodwin.com/
Find people whose approach fits your values and use their wisdom to help you make confident decisions and reassure you in the moments it feels like everyone else is walking a different path.
7. Join in with their digital world.
I’m not suggesting that you start using Snapchat with them, but I am suggesting you take a real interest. In my experience young people love an opportunity to be an expert and whether it’s the minute details of Minecraft, instructing you on how to play Call of Duty or explaining how Discord works.
Sometimes when we stop telling them and actually engage in their world and explore from their perspective everyone gains. Talk to them, take and interest, even have a go at their games – the more you understand the easier it is to connect and work ways through the tricky bits because you’ll have a better insight as to what is going on for your child.
8. Ask your child to follow 3 positive influencers
There’s all sorts of rubbish out there and you aren’t supposed to love everything your child loves, but encouraging them to think about who they’re following and getting them to follow 3 inspirational people is a start.
I can’t claim this as my tip – I heard it on a course, but I also can’t remember where otherwise I’d credit it! It’s also a good tip for ourselves – who do you follow who inspires you and nourishes your thoughts? Who might your children find inspirational or aspirational?
There’s some great people doing amazing things in the world. It could be a great dinner time conversation to find out their thoughts on who might be worth a follow!
9. Protect sleep
If it’s unrealistic to get your older children off a screen in the evening then at least change the lighting on their phone to greyscale. When screens steal sleep the problems escalate and the big emotions do too – they simply can’t self regulate as well if they haven’t had enough sleep. If you are already stuck in a rut of bad habits and you haven’t got the energy to make full scale change then take steps to limit the negative impact – greyscale is one way to do this!
10. Consider the location of devices and wifi reach
Just because everyone else has internet in their bedroom at all hours of the day and night doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. You and your child might have FOMO over this, but what they may be missing out on is a whole load of heartache and stress.
There are so many things on the internet – porn, bulling, sinister websites about suicide, eating disorders and so much more. The shame and big feelings which these sites may induce in your child are immense. It’s much harder to know they’re drawn to these if they’re always in their room with the door shut. It’s much easier to miss problems early one, especially as privacy is important for teens.
Having devices in public spaces automatically means it is much harder to end up down the more dangerous wormholes without anyone else noticing. Privacy is important, but so is staying safe on the internet and it is a challenge to keep the two in balance.
This is harder with mobile devices, but nonetheless important. As well as making agreements and setting boundaries around devices remember that where the best internet connection is found there you will also often find your child! If you give them an ethernet cable and best connection speed in their room along with unlimited data on their mobile then it's easy to hide away and for you to have little idea of what their digital life looks like. If they have limited data and need to use the wifi and the best signal is the living room then it’s much easier to notice the small shifts which might indicate something is going on and they may need a bit of support.
In the days when managing devices feels like an uphill struggle and I wonder if it would be easier just to roll with it I bring myself back to this quote by Glennon Doyle.
It reminds me why I’m cautious with my own and my children’s digital life. These are unchartered waters for all of us parenting in the digital age which is why it can feel so challenging. Not only am I trying to protect them from paedophiles, scams and predators, poor sleep and bullying, but I am also seeking to encourage their creativity and help them to be their full selves with positive and enriching relationships in context which is constantly changing.
It’s a tall order - somedays I feel like we're doing ok, other days it's more questionable - most likely it will only be with hindsight I’ll be able to see what truly was helpful, but in the words of the wonderful Maya Angelou:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
I’d love to hear your ideas of what helps you and your family. E-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can contact me at: email@example.com
#parenting #coaching #digitalage #onlinesafety #optimumfamily #parentcoach #familylife #workingparents #gloucestershire #SEND #parentsupport #anxiety  It’s easy to become blasé about the risks as we become more familiar with digital life, but some of these small changes can be important. I’d encourage all parents to make use of the data the NSPCC puts out on staying safe online and to talk to your children about the risks so they know it’s ok and that you understand and can work through those challenges together.