While it’s tough for parents to talk to their kids about screen time, it can make all the difference.
Screen time is a touchy subject for families but here’s one way to break the ice.
Headlines about screen time flooded with buzzwords like digital addiction, cyberbullying and doomscrolling have put parents on edge about what devices, like smartphones and gaming consoles, are doing to our kids. We witness firsthand that zombie look over video games or the inability to get their attention IRL when the ping of a text comes through their phones. For many, it has become a never-ending battle to turn devices off. We get emotional, they get defensive and no one ever feels good about it in the end.
But what if we’re going about it all wrong? Physician and filmmaker Dr. Delaney Ruston, producer of the award-winning film series Screenagers, suggests a different approach.
“The number one thing that we can do to most effectively parent our kids and teens in the digital age is all about how we talk to them about screen time,” she says.
Talk to Your Kids About Screen Time
By talking about screen time in a positive light, you can create opportunities for kids to share their own experience so that when they are faced with a screen time challenge, like cyberbullying or being exposed to content they’re not quite ready for, they will want to come to you to talk about it. “You’re validating that there are tons of reasons why they would want lots of screen time. Many parents, including myself, were not making enough positive associations to screen time that kids and teens didn’t feel like they could trust us when it came to conversations about how to manage it,” says Dr. Ruston.
What she found was that teens feared that their parents would take their devices away if they shared any negative online experiences. But, in fact, kids love to talk about screen time. “It totally shocks me to this day,” says Dr. Ruston, “how much kids and teens want to talk about all sorts of stuff related to screen time, around the science as well as their experiences, good and bad; yet, they have few opportunities to discuss their viewpoints with adults.”
That’s why she developed Tech Talk Tuesdays, where she chooses a weekly screen time topic for families to tackle together. Should Instagram remove its Likes? What’s the upside and downside of TikTok? How does the biology of the brain explain excessive gaming? Those sorts of questions spark engaging, meaningful conversations so you can help kids navigate the digital world as well as the real world.
“When we start to create these safe spaces at home for weekly short conversations.” says Dr. Ruston, “you will see their passion for talking about these things, and that’s our goal: to create deep thinkers in this digital age.”
What she found was that teens feared their parents would take their devices away if they shared any negative online experiences.
DR. DELANEY RUSTON
Be a Model for Realistic Screen Time Goals.
Dr. Ruston also suggests modeling healthy screen time habits in a realistic way. “Pick something that you’re trying to improve in your screen time life and start talking about that issue. Don’t just say, ‘I’m going to model appropriate screen time’,” she says. That means being honest about the challenges you face setting your own limits. For example, you might say “I’m going to have tech-free Tuesday nights or I’m not going to go back on screens after dinner.” And share how that’s going with your teen. Maybe you forget it’s Tuesday or that you have to send an email, then you say “Well, maybe I can modify it where I give myself 10 minutes right at the end of the evening.”
This shows kids that there are no hard and fast rules and that you’re willing to work together to come up with a realistic way to balance time online and off. It shows that screen time isn’t all bad and you know it.