In this second part in the Screen Safety Blog Series (read part 1 here), I’m going to share my experience helping families make screen time positive and avoid arguments, meltdowns and punishment. In my psychotherapy practice, I’ve seen a steep increase in children and teens presenting with complex issues arising from screen use. These vary from anger, poor self esteem, poor concentration to low motivation and self-harm.
To help you navigate any screen use problems in your family and establish good screen boundaries that work, this blog will cover:
- Keeping children safe online
- Screen time app limits
- Strategies for managing screen time and making it work in your family
- What programmes and games are better for children
- Dealing with meltdowns after screens
Also remember that this blog series is supported by a series on my podcast – The Mum Mind Podcast (or how to stop your mother falling out of your mouth) and a Screen Safety Talk which I am hosting on February 8th. Check in out here.
Keeping children safe online
This is the most important part of being online and I can’t stress enough how children learning to be safe online develops over time through their exposure and experience. Even when parents explain rules, children don’t know how to be safe. Always remember that when parents tell a child how to be safe online, they don’t fully understand what this means and need guidance and help along the way. Learning is a process of making mistakes and how you help your child with these is essential in maintaining a relationship where your child wants to talk with you. In short, punishment, anger and limiting use because of behaviour have no place in keeping children safe online.
Parental controls can be an essential part of keeping your child safe, and if you’re unsure about what this means, head to webwise.ie for simple tips and advice for keeping children safe online. But teaching online safety to children is more than managing apps, let’s get into it more.
Apps that limit screen time
I know many parents who rely on parental apps that limit screen time, which can be helpful (I’ve forgotten that I’ve said “15 minutes left” then half an hour later remembering!), but there’s nothing that will replace conversations. I’ve met many children and teens whose phones/devices cut off after a certain time who said, “I didn’t finish what I wanted” or “oh, but my friends weren’t on”. This then leaves parents feel compromised and suddenly you’re down a rabbit hole of negotiations, arguments and potential fallouts. And what we want is for screen time to not become a ‘thing’ or source of tension in your family.
Remember that everything is in the relationship you create around the boundaries. Children don’t need their lives managed remotely – they need to learn how to manage life, manage when we want more and can’t (anyone else find it hard to just head half a chocolate bar?) and this happens from the relationship you have with them. And this happens through being curious about their life and helping them in a practical way use technology. Hopefully you can see this is very different to just have it turned off remotely “and that’s that”. Here we are explaining it a little more on the Mum Mind Podcast.
Healthy screen time boundaries
My recommendation for the best strategies for managing screen time is to talk with your child. I know this takes time and is another thing to do (Mum of three over here!), but I can’t emphasise how important this is. Here’s some practical tips:
- Ask them what they’re up to on their device – is it a bit of chatting with friends, gaming solo, waiting for other kids to come online, a bit of Tic Tok, snapchat, research, you tube, Netflix…there’s so many choices!
- Help your child plan their screen time that day.
- Remember that children don’t want to wait for their screens, they want them now, so it’s up to you to help them use their time how they want to.
- I’m thinking of when a child is asked “do you want to wait until your friends are online?” and they want to go on immediately then become upset when their time is over and their friends have only just come on…or worse, not on yet!
- Your child needs help to manage thing – suggest they do something else in the meantime and help them learn the skill of patience and waiting.
- Remember that you are the adult, it was you who brought a device/screen into the home so it’s for your to manage, not your child.
Strategies for making screen time positive in your family
If you decide that you’d like screens and devices in your family, it’s you the adult and parent who is responsible for the rules that make it work. Remember that making it work doesn’t mean it’s always going run smoothly and the kids will comply! And you don’t want this anyway, not really. Children are learning about life through the relationship they have with you so through the boundaries that you set. So this means that the disagreements, the discussions and the consistency of your response is your child is learning how to tolerate the ups and downs of life.
These four simple strategies will help to promote sensible screen use in your family and keeping online safety for your children at the front of how they use screens:
- Give children a short amount of free time screen time. Let them explore what they’d like to, chat with their friends, watch a video (of course make sure you’ve your parental control set up so they can’t access unsafe content).
- Let’s be realistic – you can’t always sit and be with your child, there’s things to be done! (I repeat: mother of three over here!), but if there’s time sit with them and watch what they’re watching/playing, even for a few minutes at the end.
- Play the game/watch the programme with your child. Children love nothing more than the right amount of attention and playing with them is the best way of creating a secure attachment. Remember that teens like to be hung out with too!
- Then afterwards ask them about what they’re watching – who are the characters, what are the songs, what’s the music/storyline, who was online with you, did you win/lose, what number did you come, what team did you play? What you’re trying to do is to get into their world and share it with them. Remember that connection is the thing that makes your child’s world safe and your child needs you to be interested in their world.
Are certain programmes and games better for children?
I’d be here forever if I went into specific programmes, but I urge you to tune into your child. If you feel a game/programme isn’t ok, then it’s probably not so it’s your responsibility to remove that from your child’s life. Flashes of light/noise/killing/music feed into the senses and brain development of your child; what goes in can be hyper stimulating.
Also remember that children learn their social cues from you, including developmental stages such as talking and fine and gross motor skills.
Here’s a brief summary:
- Screens are hyper stimulating, so ideally no screens under the age of 2
- Skype/zoom calls are different as there’s no flashes of light
- Killing games with blood, guns and violence can be disturbing for children
- Games that encourage talking, movement and teams can be more helpful
- Make sure your child is playing games that are age appropriate
- Boys, more so than girls, can have an in built system which wants and ned to conquer so help them achieve this in the real world, not just the online one.
Strategies to manage after screen meltdowns
It’s important to bridge that gap of coming off screens for your child. Imagine this; their senses are being flooded with information, lights, flashing, noises and you’re interrupting that. A great tip I learned from Stef (my Mum Mind Podcast co-host) is to get into the world with your child to help them come out of it. Talk about the programme/game, have a conversation about what they’re watching, reminding them how many minutes they’ve left. Then when time is up it gets turned off.
I also know that this may not always bypass a meltdown, so here’s what to do then:
- Don’t shout back at your child
- Don’t fall into the spiral of “you always do this, you agreed not to do this” type conversations
- It is your role to help guide them through this; they are letting you know that aren’t ok so be kind to them and help them manage their feelings of disappointment and anger by being listening and co-regulating
- If done right, meltdowns are an opportunity for you to deepen the relationship with your child
- Help your child find their sweet spot with screens so the melt downs by listening/watching to their cues. Children can’t regulate themselves or screens, they don’t have the ability to listen to their cues, it’s the parents responsibility to feed this back in a way that builds a trusting relationship
Online safety for children is complicated!
I hope this blog answers your questions about how to help children be safe online. There’s so much to know, and so much that you won’t know about until you’re faced with that problem which is why putting rules in place is so important and keeping an open, punishment and argument free relationship with your child.
All participants at my Screen Safety Talk will receive a complimentary Rules for Online Contract to use with your family to help keep everyone safe. Remember, you’ve to try your very best to know how to keep your child safe online as they don’t have the skills, yet.
for more information about raising children, make sure you’ve your free 5 Steps to Calmer Parenting, book a Parenting Consultation or join us in the Calm Parenting Community. And be the change your children need.