Depending on your family, limiting screen time for your child might be an ongoing battle, especially during summer. I know from personal experience as well as talking to friends with kids and parents with children in my practice that the attempts to regulate screen time can cause an explosive situation in many households. There are plenty of articles out there on what screen time does to the brain as well as on how to limit screen time successfully. Solving this universal problem is never a simple task. If you decide to turn the Wi-Fi off or take the tablet away, you still have to deal with the emotional fallout, tantrum, whining. And even if you’re up for the task, taking away electronics is not always a durable solution.
Our relationship with technology is complicated. When I observe a stranger looking at their phone, I have no idea if they’re checking a stock portfolio, the weather, playing a game, texting, etc. When I reach for the remote I can go for Netflix, HBO, or “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on YouTube. When I open my laptop, I can check e-mails, read the latest news, or shop.
Often we have no clue what really is going on between our children and a screen, but understanding that should aid us in figuring out how to regulate their screen time if we chose to do so. The next time you find yourself yelling at your child for the tenth time to get ready to leave the house, join your family for dinner, or go to bed, think about why they have difficulty doing so.
Here is a list (in no particular order) of concerns your child might have getting off an electronic device:
1. Your child is worried about losing their place in the game.
Often in my practice, I hear from kids, “I’ve worked so hard to get to a certain point and I can’t save it. It’s not fair if I have to shut it down!” Indeed, some games like Minecraft and Roblox have no good place to save the progress. Is there a possible solution here? Talk to your child about what games they’re playing, ask about how the progress is saved and stored. Show an interest, “What would happen if you lose your spot? Do you have a plan? How would you go about it?”
2. Your child is worried that they won’t be able to find and watch a clip again.
This can happen to anybody. Planning ahead and problem-solving with your child is important. If they like a clip on YouTube, would they know how to find it again? Do they need help to learn how to bookmark it or another way to remember how to retrieve the information?
3. Your child is tired or stressed out.
Screen time is a way for many children (and let’s be honest, adults as well) to relax, destress, and escape reality. After an exhausting day, it’s compelling to stretch on the couch and grab the remote. Of course, it should not be the only way to calm down, even though it’s the easiest and most accessible one.
4. Your child is good at playing a video game and isn’t good at (pick what describes them) math, reading, writing, playing an instrument, making and keeping friends, etc.
We all like doing what we’re good at. If your child has to transition to homework after the video game, this often might be the reason. Video games provide the kids with victories and allow them to unwind from social pressures.
5. Your child feels that they can control what happens in the game.
But they don’t feel that they can control what happens in their day to day life. Think about the last time you felt like you had no control over your life and how it felt.
6. Your child’s friends play the same games, go to the same sites, and use the same apps.
Whether you like it or not, many social interactions happen online and this type of “spending time with their friends” takes priority especially for older children. For example, one child shared with me that he can’t leave Clash Royale in the middle of a round because his friends will get mad at him or he may even get kicked out from the game clan. Some children may not even have many friends, so they play games with other children living in different parts of the country or world. They may have promised that they will be there at a certain time which sadly can be midnight.
7. Your child doesn’t want to do what you might have asked them to do
If you are aware that your child is having difficulties with transitions in general, reminding them to stop playing a video game or watching YouTube will not do the trick. Especially if you asked them to do something less preferred, like taking the garbage out, cleaning their room, getting ready for bed. This one also calls for a proactive conversation and problem-solving.
8. Your child is concerned that you may not let them play the game again.
Often I hear this concern from families struggling with communication and screen time boundaries in general and from families that take screen time away for misbehavior that might not even be connected to the use of screen time in the first place. For some kids it might feel like the last Halloween or the last visit to a candy shop, so they feel they have no other solution but to gorge.
9. Your child feels bored and they feel like they have nothing else to do.
Feeling “bored” is a code word for something else. Perhaps other activities like reading or playing a board game might not be as exciting. Either way, screen time is fun for them. So when you ask them to abandon their “electronic pacifier”, they resist dealing with the feelings they wanted to escape in the first place. What is really bothering them? Are they anxious, worried, or lonely? Do they really think that there is no other alternative? When you look at it this way the obsession with the game might be more as a coping strategy.
10. Your child tells you that you’re binging on your shows and it’s not that different than playing a video game or watching cartoons.
This one is about fairness. Your child spend a lot of time on their device but they watch you too. Are you constantly on your cell phone? Do you spend more time with technology than with your child? How does technology dominate your life?
The solution to your child’s difficulty getting off the phone because “I’m spending time with my friends” will be different from “I’m tired”. So the next time, before your child gets a hold of the PlayStation console you may want to talk to them about what is really going on and have a plan in place.