Loaded question, I thought to myself. I could spend an hour going through the intricacies of screen time choice, when to expose children to screens, what to expose them to. It’d be a long, boring powerpoint.
“That’s easy!” I said. “Just set a good example with your own screen time use. He’ll do what you do.”
It really is that easy.
You don’t have to spend loads of mental energy planning how to talk to your kids about screens. Just set an example of healthy screen use.
Not sure where to start? Here are four ideas:
Don’t pull out the phone in times of boredom. I’m guilty of this but trying to get better. I will admit sometimes I pull out my phone as I walk up the stairs….yes, 15 stairs and by the top I’m up to speed on notifications. Resist the urge to turn to the screen. If you feel the tug to get your screen out, ask your child a question instead. ANY question. “How was your day?” “What was the best thing you did?” “What was the hardest thing that happened this week?” “What’s your favorite superhero?” Any question. Spark a discussion. Car rides, waiting for an appointment, waiting to pickup a sibling from practice. All chances to engage with a captive audience rather than tune out.
Set limits. Make hard and fast rules….start with dinnertime. “We all drop our phones into a basket and put it in a different room for dinnertime.” a mom of several tweens and teens recently told me. What a great idea! No screens at the dinner table – teens AND parents. Everyone has buy-in. No one hears the dings. Conversations occur uninterrupted and without the itch to find out what you were just notified of.
Model self-control. If your child often hears you say, “Okay I’m putting my phone on silent so we can talk and relax in peace” then that’ll show him what you value. Make sure he sees you making conscious choices to unplug and be present. It’ll sound like bragging (“Look at me turning my phone off!”) but to your child your simply illustrating your thought process. They’ll think “OK I really have dad’s attention and focus…let’s make it count”.
Make notifications rare. Do you need to get a ding with every email? Every Facebook message? Every tweet? Every text? Every Target sale? Maybe from some people you do need to be available to at all times and that’s ok. But I would gamble that most of the time there is nothing time-sensitive that you must be aware of. Turn off as many notifications as you possibly can. Tell the people that need to get in touch with you to use this app or that mechanism if you really need to get in touch. As a pediatrician, sometimes my staff and the hospital need to alert me of something or get ahold of me quickly. They know exactly which apps and notifications I get and can direct their message accordingly. Biggest step: turn off your email notifications. Let your VIPs know that you only check your email twice per day and that if they need something more urgent to call. I took my own advice and it has made a WORLD of difference. Do I check my email more often than twice daily? Yep. But I do it on my terms….when I want to and when I’m ready to respond. I’m not at the beckon call of my email and you shouldn’t be either.