In the absence of proper guidance and supervision, most teens would spend their entire day behind a screen. Whether it’s a laptop, smartphone, gaming console or television, usage can easily spiral out of control. This risk is exacerbated by how affordable electronics have become (for instance, see this cheap gaming headset buying guide) so teens can easily purchase certain gadgets from their own savings.
Even when it seems as though your children’s peers are doing the same, that doesn’t make it right or healthy. There are consequences to excessive screen time including a heightened risk of obesity, deterioration in eyesight, weak social skills, poor interaction with family and a strain on mental health.
You can manage your teen’s screen time without taking away the fun in their life. We look at some of the most effective tools for limiting your child’s screen time.
1. Make it a Privilege
The average teen enjoys so much screen time that many parents have fallen into the trap of seeing it as a right and not a privilege. With the pressure to ensure their child is not missing out on similar thrills as their age mates, some parents have allowed teens to binge-watch or binge-play uninhibited.
To avoid getting sucked into this negative spiral, set the rules early. Your child must understand that screen time is not a blank check. It has limits and it must be earned. Your teen must first complete their homework and house chores before they can play a computer game or turn on the television.
Expect spirited resistance at the beginning but as you explain why this is necessary and get into a routine, your child will learn a principle that will be vital for the rest of their life. Such impulse control and delayed gratification will strengthen their organization and financial planning ability as an adult.
2. Set the Right Example
It’s all good to tell your teen that it’s bad to stare at a screen and not do anything else for the entire day. But what do they see you do? Children will emulate behavior and pay much greater attention to what you do as and not just what you say. At best, they’ll wait for you to leave so they can indulge in screen time. At worst, they’ll argue endlessly and defy you.
Set the right tone by demonstrating you too are bound by the same rules. Don’t demand that your teen stay away from the television and yet they observe you spend your entire evening in front of it when you get home from work.
Let your child see you walk away or switch off your gadgets when you have to do something important. They’ll understand that you too consider the TV or phone a privilege that you only enjoy after you’ve tackled your stuff for the day.
3. Discourage Multitasking
We all think we are quite good at juggling multiple activities at one go. And having some success doing so may actually motivate us to try and ‘perfect’ our ability to do so. In reality, multitasking robs the things you do from receiving your full attention. You end up completing several tasks at a go but with mediocre results across the board.
Teens, like everyone else, consider themselves great at multitasking. They’ll be texting on their phone while washing the dishes, or do their homework while watching television. Of course, they’ll try to get away with it by claiming they eventually accomplished what they were meant to do. They’ll certainly not do it as well as they should since the multitasking inhibits their productivity.
4. Establish Limits on Electronic Use
Teens and especially the younger ones aren’t sufficiently mature to handle unrestricted use of electronics. They’ll either use the items with no sense of time or they’ll venture in spaces that endanger their wellbeing.
Lay down rules that keep your children safe and guide them in making the right decisions whenever they are using computers, TVs, game consoles and smartphones. An example of a practical rule is establishing a specific time in the evening when all screens in the home must be switched off.
You could also automate rules by installing software that limits what your teen can do. They can for instance be barred from accessing adult and hate sites.
5. Encourage Physical Activity
It’s all good to restrict your teen’s use of electronics. But what should they do instead? They won’t always have enough homework or household chores to keep them busy. Physical activity is a fun way to distract your teens away from their gadget obsession. Sports, hiking, rock climbing, going for a walk or volunteering are just examples of what they could do.
Even better, get the entire family involved so this feels less like something they are pushed to do. It’s a powerful way to break communication barriers and strengthen bonds between family. Physical activity sharpens your child’s social skills. Remember that for physical activity to deliver the desired impact, no electronics should be allowed except a camera to capture the moments.
6. Make It Collaborative
As the parent, it’s your house and your rules. You are the adult and ultimately your decision carries the day. That being said, getting your teens to moderate their use of electronics is more likely to be successful if they feel included in the decision. Ergo, lay the groundwork for your new rules by organizing a family meeting where everyone is allowed to share their input.
This meeting is not only an opportunity to explain why screen time must be kept under control but you might get to hear why your teen sees their computer, smartphone or television as an escape. Maybe there is an underlying problem such as strained interpersonal relations. By so doing, you can go beyond simply limiting electronic use and start addressing the root cause of the gadget fixation.
By following these tips, you will help your child develop a healthy relationship with their electronics. Note that collaboration between the two parents is crucial. Teens must see consistent application of rules by both parents else they may manipulate both of you so they can have their own way.
In addition, no two children are the same including those within the same family. Be flexible and employ different strategies as appropriate while demonstrating fairness at all times.