If you are worried about your child’s screen addiction, here is a simple fix to handle screen time battles.
A little TV or screen time is not a big problem, but if your child is obsessed with it and wants to be with a screen more than you, or if he throws a huge tantrum for not getting his way, THEN you have a problem.
My school-going children get 45 minutes of screen time every day. But even then, sometimes I find that they get obsessed with a TV show or a game. If this happens, of course my #1 tactic is to put a complete stop to it, but as I am sure you know, you cannot ban the internet for children at all. It just isn’t right.
7 years ago…
My son D had just come home from school and hadn’t even put his bag away. He announced that he was going to play on the tablet before everything else.
I had a child who was a gaming addict.
He hadn’t changed out of his uniform or had a snack. Not even been to the bathroom.
I said no.
‘But mom, Akheel’s mom lets him. That is what Saud does too. I asked them!’ He was getting angry.
‘I am sorry… You know the routine,’ I said, trying hard to not sound panicked.
The babies had just gone down for their nap. I was thankful that we were in another room. I could choose to say ‘No’ today.
However, this was becoming a daily argument. He would never give up until I had consented. He’d follow me around whining till I put in the password.
A little bit of entertainment is not bad, but when your child is glued to a screen shooting down bad guys or wanting to play Minecraft all day, you start to wonder if this is healthy for them! Those LEGO forts need not be built on screen, you know? Paw Patrol or Doc McStuffin for an hour??
My husband and I were always arguing about our son’s behavior. Z thought I was fueling D’s addiction by giving in too easily.
I had no choice. He came home at the babies’ nap time. After a very active and stressful morning, I wanted my peace too. It was the only time I had to myself before the babies got up. We had to tackle homework, baths and bedtimes in the evening. I needed some rest myself.
Related: See after school routine here
But D needed to relax too. He would calmly eat and unravel from his day while he built those forts, I thought.
It isn’t that he wouldn’t get any physical exercise because right after screen time, he would go and play with his friends outside. I felt it was okay to let him have 60 minutes on the tablet.
But Hubby didn’t want any technology for our son. ‘He is too young to understand it… besides, he has no use for it‘. D had homework online every day. That is enough, he would say.
But all his friends would play games on their Xbox. We don’t own an Xbox or a WII. ‘If I don’t give him some screen time, he will feel left out’, I would argue.
What if he played without our knowledge? What if he started doing things secretively? Should we be limiting screen time..? After all, it was just one hour a day.
I was beginning to have doubts about my parenting now…
I felt I was losing the grip on my son. He was drifting towards becoming a technology junkie!
Hubby said I was teaching him to while away time… waste time. I was teaching him how to entertain himself with gadgets. ‘He could better use that time to polish his skills, learn a talent or help himself.’
He crafts, he is good at his studies, I argued.
‘There are better things that he can do in that time.’
He does his chores. He plays with his sisters.
‘What can games do for him?’
There are skills that he is learning in those games too.
‘Can those skills not be learnt elsewhere? What do games give him?!’
What do games give him? Why does he want to play games more than anything else? Can I not give him something else that will quench that thirst? How can I turn this into a learning experience for him…? A life-long skill? I wondered…
The psychology behind your child’s screen addiction
The key to fighting screen time is to understand the psychology behind why children want to play video games.
Hubby was right. What use was building imaginary forts and battling armies teaching him? There had to be something more exciting than growing virtual gardens…
Games give children a sense of accomplishment. Winning wars equals success. Unlocking the next level is challenging. Beating up the bad guy and rescuing cute bunnies makes him feel like a hero. When he solved a problem, he was rewarded for it. Racing cars is a thrill, excitement. He felt grown up, like he was good at something… Why would he not want to play?
What if I gave him something equally challenging? I pondered.
What if he could act grown up and solve problems like adults? He could be in command, be recognized for his effort/|
s, encouraged and rewarded for his hard work…
I wondered if I could involve him with my work. After all, to a certain extent, my working from home job was the reason why he wanted to sit at a laptop too. He wanted to do something important like mom.
I have been working from home for the past 15 years. My children see me work on a screen every day. I have strict office hours, but sometimes, I have to be on a cell phone or a laptop at other times too. My husband brings home work too, and like all husbands, he enjoys reading his paper on the phone.
Children see adults using screens all the time.
We parents don’t often realize this, but our children are always watching us. To them, we are ‘playing’ with our devices.
We need to teach children that electronics are not toys.
But how can they learn this?
I started by asking my friends what they were doing with their older kids. Some of them had employed their children in their businesses. My son was only 6 years old; would he be able to do anything?
How I fixed my son’s screen addiction
I wasn’t sure but I was willing to test it out. It didn’t matter if he was perfect or not. My mission was only to remove his attention from games. So I approached his addiction in a new light.
I let him watch me work. Then I asked him if he would like to help me.
Wouldn’t he??! Of course! He was delighted.
So started our journey. It started with simple printable star charts and then graphics. Since he already had presentations for school, I gave him some projects at home too.
Next, we got him in charge of writing the accounts for our spending. He was just 6 years old but he understood where we spent money and how much things cost in general. There was a good discussion all the time.
I showed him how to make spreadsheets and data charts. He was fascinated and found it fun. This was the math that he was learning at school but he finally knew where he could apply it.
He was counting money, adding and dividing, making pie charts and bar diagrams or our expenditure. He knew how to compare rates.
This was my eldest when he was 6 years old. He is 11years old now. We also have two daughters who are 5 and 6 years old. This has been our approach with them too.
The REAL reason why kids want screen time
The real reason why children want screen time is because they see adults on their shiny devices.
They see their parents watching videos, chatting with their friends or taking pictures many times throughout the day. Kids think it is cool to have a personal entertainment device. That is really sad but true.
We need to change our approach towards technology. Once we understand that we don’t need to be online all the time, nor do we have to use our phones to stay connected, we can teach our own children.
I learnt a very important lesson about using electronic devices with my children. How I use my own devices will dictate how my kids will use their too. So start by showing kids that electronic devices are for ‘work’. They are tools by which we can do many things. But… they are not for playing games or wasting time.
We use technology:
- to stay connected.
- to learn about the world.
- to make money.
- to simplify our job.
- to voice our opinions because our words have power.
But technology shouldn’t be used as an entertainment device all the time. I guess it is something we adults need to learn before we can teach our kids.
How to manage screen time addiction in children
Technology is here to stay. There are new development every few months. Maneuvering the internet is like learning to ride a bike or how to read and write. Here is how you can manage screen time addiction better.
1. Teach them the rules before everything else
The first step is to ensure that your child knows what is expected of them. Address questions like: when can they have screen time, for how long, and what they can use it for.
- A routine chart helps children feel in control. This tells them when they will get their opportunity. It establishes consistency so there will be less arguments and power struggles. Write or print a routine chart and place it somewhere where they will be able to see it. See our School Time Routine or Summer Time Schedule for ideas.
- Screen time rules ensure responsibility. Grab our Family Rules and Routine charts here.
- Have a screen time agreement. Explain what they can and cannot do. Be as elaborate as possible and mention the consequences.
2. Educate yourself
We live in an age where we have to deal with challenges our parents never experienced. We need tools to arm ourselves and education that is still not clear. The only way to learn is by participating in discussions and researching what our children are doing. I wrote this post about How Facebook Helps Parents control Bullying online. There are more such resources out there. Learn: educate not just yourself but others too.
3. Learn how to control those gadgets
If we are going to give our children screens and then we want to control those gadgets, it is important that we know how to have full control. There are many apps and built in controls on gadgets. Windows desktop or tablets come with Magic Desktop, for example. Learn about these.
4. Teach your child what tablets, mobile phones and computers are really for.
Help them use technology to learn new skills and polish old ones. No doubt there are educational games available, but even if they are learning through them, they are still games.
The best way to teach kids that electronic devices are tools, is by showing them all the great things that they can be used for do!
We started off by inviting D to see what we do on the computer or with our phones. It helped him see that we don’t play games but we do enjoy our jobs. Whether it was watching videos, talking to someone or creating graphics, it was for a reason.
Children cannot learn to differentiate between entertainment and work when you are using games to teach learning. Instead, when we use screen time to train them to use the internet responsibly, we empower them. We show them what adults use gadgets for and how technology has more purpose than shooting down bad guys on a screen.
Here is a list of things that I have had success with so far. If you have a child who is crazy about technology, try this instead. Help them learn some life skills on the computer.
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How you can teach your children new skills using computers and tablets
- Teach them to use Paint or other drawing softwares. Kids make beautiful drawings and clip art if given the chance. I only had to show my children a few times how to do it before they learnt to do it all on their own. I am always amazed by what kind of drawings they create. It is fun and easy for even 4-5 year olds. You don’t need to download different apps for it. With all three of my kids, this was the first thing I taught them.
- Make story books. Once they get the hang of drawing, introduce them to Word or other document creating pages. Let them write out stories and then add in pictures. My eldest was writing and selling his own books in second grade. Of course, those were hand written ones but I saw that he had a passion for writing while doing it. He was even making workbooks and science worksheets for himself. When he asked for screen time, I found he wanted to try writing these stories on Word. He could add pictures and voice notes to them. It was a completely new discovery for him. He loved the idea of how fun his books were becoming. If you are on Microsoft, use Notepad instead of Word. For Mac computers, Pages is very good.
- Ask them to create Printables. I have been downloading printables for my children from sicnce they were 2.5 years old. We homeschooled for two years before each of them started school. D saw how I downloaded them from the internet. He wanted to make such printables on Paint. This gave me the idea that I could help him solve my problem. We started creating Chore charts, Reward charts, simple games and learning pages for the toddlers and preschooler. We made Play dough mats, quotes and greetings too. I was really surprised how he could teach himself on Photoshop and Illustrator to make those sheets. See, kids learn very fast! This Super Hero Star Chart was made by my son.
- Powerpoint Presentations are another fun thing for them to try. They can make scrapbooks for family or their own interests. I personally loved seeing my son’s Powerpoint projects because his school would send projects for him and he was already well versed in it so he made even better ones than his friends. HIs teachers were impressed. He is the go-to Tech Guy for his teachers now!
- Videomaking: We all take photos and videos of our children. Kids love to throw these together into Moviemaker and make fun videos with their personal touch. No doubt, nowadays, they have all these fun apps to make such things but I don’t allow them for my children. Those apps usually have ads and some limitations that make them unsafe for children to use. Why not teach them to make these from scratch!
- Help them use spreadsheets like Excel sheets. This helps them learn about accounts and billing. They can make grocery lists at age 4-5yrs and learn to write words of common used items in this way. Excel sheets are good in teaching them to code or do simple math problems too. My children learnt about money and expenditure by keeping logs on sheets like this. They make their own Banks with their own complete stationary!
- Teach them to code. In our rapidly developing world, learning to code has become so important. Even toys come with simple coding instructions now. Teach your child to code by using various online programs like Scratch from MIT. There are many sites that teach your child do this. Teach them about solving problems and how coding is just simple math. My children love coding. The eldest even did a course and gained a certification in it when he was just 8 years old. They can learn so many fun things through coding- like how to turn off a device remotely!
- Help them acquire new skills. I am not a homeschooler but every Summer for 3-4 months we study at home. I pick out courses for them to do. Some are paid but most are free. I will need to write a whole post about these courses but for now a great place to start is Khan Academy. You have to just create an account for your child and your child can choose a course. My now 11 year old only wants to do this.
So now… we are learning something new on the computer every few days. D isn’t entertaining himself with technology anymore. He knows how to make it work for him. He is not even 12 years old!
These are just some of the things that we have tried with our children at home. It started with turning my technology -craving child who wanted to play games online into a Tech genius who now knows that computers and tablets are not just for playing games. His teachers already knew he was good with computers, but now his new talents have made him even more popular with his friends and peers.
You can make a genius out of your child too. You don’t have to let them be a slave to technology. It is easy to teach them how technology can benefit them; how it solves problems and makes life easier.
You can use the ideas above to teach your child that technology was created to make life easier. Teach your child how to make their life better and those of others around them by using it more responsibly.
Turn your child’s technology addiction into his super power! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. <3