As parents, we are our children’s first teachers. While that may seem obvious, many don’t realize how much children mimic us and learn the ways of the world through us. This starts at an early age, from babies to toddlers following us around the house and it continues as they grow.
And while we can all recognize that raising children isn’t what it once was, we’ve had to adapt to technology everywhere; it is still primarily our job to influence them. We need to steer our kids in a direction that we, as parents, feel good about.
Are Parents the Problem?
Probably the most significant way we can influence our children is by setting the right example. We cannot in good conscious complain that they are always having screen time when they see us constantly staring at a screen.
Screen time can include various types of devices, but it is up to you, the parent, to decide what falls in your range of allowed screen time. From too much TV to asking to play on your phone, tablets, computer, and video games, all fall within this realm.
Many parents like to put time limits on their children’s device usage, but this has to be enforced. And while this is a great way to limit their time spent, it doesn’t work if parents don’t also follow the rules. It also doesn’t address the idea of parents influencing their children away from screen time, but it is a start.
Are You Available to Them?
We all have jobs and multiple commitments, but nothing tells a child that they matter more than a parent who makes themselves available to them. And being available doesn’t require you to be your child’s shadow, but it does call for giving them some undivided attention.
Giving your child some exclusive attention, even if for only ten minutes, allows them to express themselves to you and truly feel as though they are important. This time lets them know that nothing is more significant than the connection and relationship you have.
When they know that they can come to you at any time, they are less likely to reach for that screen. It allows for communication to open up between you and them, and ultimately, they feel safe talking with you about what interests them.
Screen Time is Not a Solution
Many parents will reluctantly admit that they have used screen time as a way to solve a problem. Kids can’t sit still at a dinner out; give them our phones to keep them quiet. They are bored at home and are running around the house; quiet them down with some video games.
And while most parents use screens as a way to provide a solution to a problem they don’t know how to otherwise fix, we can encourage them away from this habit we have created. We need to focus on the idea that screen time is a privilege and not a right.
Screen Time Needs to Be Earned
To say to parents that kids should not be allowed screen time is a hard pill to swallow. As previously stated, we live in a digital age and shouldn’t expect parents to isolate their children from all screens. But we can make it that they have to earn their time.
By having them complete tasks, chores, and maintain good behaviour before they are allowed time on a device will let them know that it is not a guaranteed allowance. That said, showing them that there are other ways to spend their time, without restrictions, will influence them to practice other activities.
By never limiting time to read, explore outside, play a game, pick up a hobby, such as photography, we are demonstrating that these types of activities are better for them. Studies have shown that positive reinforcement is tremendously effective in encouraging behaviour we want to see.
Tips for Less Screen Time
As we previously mentioned, time limits are a great way to control how much screen time you allow your children to have. But it is up to you to decide how much time your child receives. It can be determined based on their age, divided up as time allotted per week, or simply given as a reward.
Another way to limit their screen time is to not allow them to have their own devices. Shared family devices help avoid fights based on property. Children can’t complain about how it’s their device and they can use it as they choose if it’s not theirs. This also eliminates devices from being kept in their rooms but rather in a shared family space.
Making sure to watch our habits is another big tip. Do you pull out your phone every time you are bored? Do your children come up to you and tell you they are bored? We tend to forget that boredom is supposed to happen. We are not required to fill every moment with an instant distraction.
Boredom is a big motivator to opening up our imagination and creativity. Instead, challenge your children to come up with something. Maybe they can create a performance to put on for the family, a new game to play, write a story, or even learn a new skill.
Ultimately, screen time should be the last resort. Make it a habit in your family that there are certain requirements, such as chores, and even play, that need to be fulfilled before screen time is even considered.
We guarantee that if you offer your children time spent with you over a device, the majority will pick spending time with you. And don’t think that you have to plan special activities for this time; many are content to follow their parents around doing mundane chores (at least while they are still young).
The secret is to keep interacting with them about their interests and even revealing some of your own. It is often through ordinary interactions that we best get to know and understand our children. We see what makes them come alive with excitement, which leads us to the next step in influencing them.
Encourage Their Interests
When children are younger, such as pre-school age, it can be hard to truly understand where their interests lie. One moment they are completely into unicorns the next they have a pile of rocks they insist on taking everywhere with them.
Initially, kids ask hundreds of questions, and when something interests them, they want to know more about that topic. When we don’t have the answer, our instincts can often be to look it up online, but instead, make it more of an event. Try taking them to a library, museum, or even studio and look up their questions there.
Gently encourage their interests. Children can often feel intimidated at first, but it is through asking questions, learning, and offering them your time and availability that their interest can grow in a healthy manner. Allow them to see all facets their interest has to offer.
Consider a child who loves to observe and explore, then consider ways in which they can explore the world around them. How can they capture what they see? Photography is a great way that allows a child to both explore and be creative, all while using their imagination.
In this way, technology can be useful, like having them use a camera that is made for kids to help them capture their point of view. We have seen the joy on children’s faces, whether they are using our smaller, finger touch models or even our instant print polaroid cameras. They love being able to capture their creations and how they see the world.
Don’t be afraid to open them up to a world of possibilities by exposing them to a wide variety of interests. Remember that encouragement does not include pressure to succeed. They are allowed to make mistakes in what they do; it is how they learn and grow.
We understand that limiting screen time and actively participating with your children is no easy feat. These suggestions require both commitment and dedication, and as fellow parents, we know we are all doing the best that we can.
But as parents, it is our job to recognize and nurture the strengths and talents we see in our children through the experiences we give them at home. Regardless of what comes from these experiences, less screen time is a bonus; the bond you have with your children is the ultimate reward.