I want you to parent with ease and confidence and not let screens get in the way of that.  Alongside my eighteen years working with children, teens, adults and families I am also a Mum of three…so I really do understand the screen struggles both personally and professionally!  In the last few years, I’ve seen a significant increase in child and teen problems related to screen use and I want to help parents know how to help children manage screen time and make it positive in their lives.

This blog will focus on my professional experience and share strategies from this perspective – I share about my personal parenting experiences in the safety of my online parenting support The Calm Parenting Community, which you’re welcome to read about here. 

In this three part blog series, I’m going to cover the essentials for all parents for keeping children safe online and share my best screen safety tips.  This blog runs alongside a Screen Safety Talk I’m holding in February, and three part series on my podcast The Mum Mind Podcast (or how to stop your mother falling out of your life). So if your eyes are too tired for reading, listen here on Apple, Spotify or ACast.

This first screen safety blog will help you with:

  • Keeping children safe online
  • What screen time is good for my child?
  • Finding balance with screen time
  • Keeping children safe online
  • Screen time boundaries
  • Strategies for managing screen time and making it positive in your family 

I want to start this blog with a caveat; if you’re struggling right now, have mental health difficulties or are finding life hard and you know you’re leaning on screens more than usual, that’s ok.  This is the gift of the online world. Hopefully this blog will share some tips to lighten your load, so let’s get started.

Finding Balance with Screen Time

What’s essential for all children, and families, is children having a life outside of screens.  The biggest danger that I see with screen use is that it impacts children’s natural motivation and ability to find life enjoyable.  How can the real world compete with the flashing, noises and intensity of the online world that sends children so easily into a trance?

And of course the real world can.  And it’s your job as a parent to help make your child’s screen time be safe and help them to find balance.  Here’s some tips:

  • It is essential that your child has hobbies and interests outside of the screen
  • Children need to feel that natural pleasure of achievement, not screen induced
  • If your child doesn’t want to do things alone, bridge that gap by doing activities with them to build their motivation and enjoyment
  • Help your child live in the real world and help them be part of your family through cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, doing dishes, tidying etc. Yes, I know these jobs can seem so mundane, but do them together and help your child develop essential life skills that the online world can’t teach them.

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.  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.

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.

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” and then the 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, through being curious about their life and helping them in a practical way use technology; not just have it turned off remotely “and that’s that”. 

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 managing screen time and making it a 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; kids are learning about life through the relationship they have with you so through the boundaries that you set, the disagreements, the discussions and the consistency of your response, your child is learning how to tolerate the ups and downs of life, especially learning how they can’t always get what they want. 

So here’s some simple strategies for promoting sensible screen use:

  • Giving them 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.

I hope this blog has helped you learn more about how to keep children safe online.  If you’d like to know more, ask me questions and really make this work for your family, join me at my Screen Safety Talk, online on 8th February for only €25. All the information and to book your place here.

There’s so much information for you to know as a parent and I don’t want to overwhelm with one long blog, so make sure to check out Part 2 and 3 for a full and comprehensive information to help you make screen time safe in your family.  The next blogs cover:

  • Are certain programmes/games better for children
  • Managing after screen meltdowns
  • Helping teens manage apps 
  • How to tell if your child is addicted to screens/games
  • What’s a reasonable amount of screen time 
  • How to manage if things go wrong.