Managing Screen Time by Gavin Latz
So the school holidays are over and the kids are back to school. The end of device related screen time tantrums right? As parents we can only live in hope.
I’m the dad of 3 boys, aged 15, 13 and 10, so have had my own fair share of ‘disagreements’ over devices with my sons. So much so that we have recently read up on a couple of books about teenagers and technology, and to put it bluntly, it’s pretty scary reading. Devices and gaming IS addictive. There are even screen time ‘disorders’ being officially recognised. This blog may look a little on the long side, but if you are a parent with kids and devices, bear with me as I have some tips for dealing with this particular challenge facing all of us, and hope I can provide some practical help.
There is no doubt screens are taking a seemingly bigger share of our kid’s week, but how much is the ‘right’ amount and what can we do about it? We certainly can’t chuck all the devices away much as we might like too at times. This is because devices are practical tools for our kids and these days, a big part of the social structure within their friends. That’s just the reality of kids living in 2019, and we are talking age 8 upwards as well.
Let’s face it, we also spend time on our screens and it’s part of life now. Like everything, I guess it’s all about moderation. So what did we as a family do as a result of our research? We implemented a ‘screen time’ policy in our household earlier this year – and although our sons think we are psychopathic demons ruining their lives, we do believe we are making a positive impact. So, as a result of our experience I would love to share what I’ve learned.
l’ll break it down to 2 sections: Gaming Consoles (e.g. Xbox) and Handheld Devices (smartphones and iPads).
I have to confess for the purposes of this blog we are a 100% Apple household, and only have an Xbox. I am not familiar with PS4 or Android but they do have I am sure their own equivalent of what I will talk about below.
Also, it’s important to distinguish that we didn’t classify ‘TV’ as ‘screen time’. That would be going a little too far I think.
Before I talk gadgets themselves we also implemented 2 ‘gadget free days a week’. This was partially inspired by the movie ‘Ready Player One’. Your kids have probably seen it. Ask them about the concept – they will no doubt start to look worried. We voted and chose Sunday and Tuesday and after a couple of weeks they got used to it. They don’t ask any more on these days.
If you have an Xbox, your child will have set themselves up a gamer tag (their own account basically). As Xbox is owned by Microsoft you can set up your own Microsoft account in minutes, and link each child’s account to it. They then become part of your Microsoft ‘Family’.
Depending on your child’s age, there is research on ‘how much’ screen time is ‘enough’. On reading Noel’s book ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Screen Time’ we worked out 7 hours a week was where we would start – and we decided this was just for the console. So we gave the kids a weekly calendar and got them to work out their 7 hours (no more than 2 hours in a block). They actually took to the task very well (only about half a dozen arguments….). Once we had the times (and they didn’t overlap) we simply booked in the block on our Microsoft account for each child, and the kids quickly memorised it. It soon became ‘the way it is’. We were amazed. It reduced the ‘get off the Xbox now’ arguments by 100%. The bonus was the kids also made it to dinner on time!
You can also link your child’s PC / Laptop in exactly the same way – for example you can ‘lock’ any usage after say, 10 pm and then unlock it at 9am. Useful as they simply can’t log on to the computer in their rooms = no late night gaming you don’t know about.
Smartphones and iPads
So once we established the console usage times and blocks, we turned to the iPhones and iPads. For this each child needed their own Apple ID. You can do this from your own iPhone quite simply. Just like with Microsoft, Apple then allows you to ‘join’ your family (to your own Apple ID – the one parent setting it all up I might add).
Once everyone is linked, and assuming they have a device that is about 5 years old to have it included in the update, you can use the ‘Screen Time’ functionality in the ‘Settings’ section of the device. You can set up a password (pin) and control the times from your own phone, or theirs. What is good about this is you can also set up a ‘Downtime’, which means they can’t use their phone after a certain time (avoids blue screen issues and the link with poor sleep). So for us, at 8pm the phone is effectively locked. Another good feature is that there is an ‘always allowed’ app section, for example Facebook messenger, or YouTube music (which my 15yo can’t live without). Other apps like ‘messages’ (texting) and the actual ability to make a phone call (what it was designed for!) is always accessible obviously.
The ability to limit time on other apps is really powerful. Right now for instance ‘Brawl Stars’ seems to be the game of the moment. I have set 30 mins a day for this particular game. They know this and once the time is used it’s gone. Same with Instagram, setting a time limit puts an end to constant endless scrolling. My son would most likely do this for hours on end if he was able. I believe this limit setting may even help them with time management. If something becomes a ‘scarce’ commodity, it is used productively. These app limits are on top of the 7 hours console time, but again, there are no arguments or ‘get off your phone’ yelling matches. They know their limits (pun intended), and we are comfortable as we set them (based on an open discussion with them as well I might add).
It sounds hard, but setting up our household in this way has definitely reduced the Xbox drama of ‘I can’t turn it off now because it won’t pause and I’m in the middle of an important battle’ type scenario. The kids have boundaries and clarity on how much time they have and when it’s going to end so they have learnt to deal with it. Same with the devices via the ‘screen time’ function. They know what they can use each day and it’s up to them to manage it. Once it’s up, it’s up. It’s ‘use it or lose it’ and no ‘carry over’ to the next day.
We do of course have exceptions to the limits (to show our kids we can be reasonable at times and we are not trying to destroy their life). If our son/s is playing with friends and in the middle of a mission or chapter of a game we can extend the time easily enough. If he’s playing alone, then it’s generally time up. It’s been hard but we have accepted that a good chunk of their ‘social life’ outside school nowadays is online.
So why have we done this and has it worked? We’ve done it as we’ve seen the signs of addiction already. We’ve also seen the early ‘withdrawal’ symptoms of ‘coming off’ the screens. We wanted to put a halt to these behaviours as early as we could. You know your kids, they are all uniquely different and wonderful in their own way.
Has it worked? For us, absolutely.
What works for one may not for another but have a plan. It’s worth the initial pain of implementing it, I promise you. They will whinge for a bit (about 2 weeks haha) but it is worth it in the long run. Good luck!
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GAMING UNPLUGGED AT UNITY STUDIOS
Unity Studios runs a programme called ‘Gaming Unplugged’ every Friday during term time from 4.30pm to 6pm. As the name suggests the kids play all manner and range of board games and no devices allowed
If you are interested in trying out a Gaming Unplugged session for your tween – teen. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Useful (very new and up to date) Books on screen time and adolescence
Calmer, Easier, Happier Screen Time: Noel Janis-Norton
Teen Brain: David Gillespie