The technological advances in the last 15 years have been phenomenal. The ease with which people can research a problem, find entertainment and network with friends is awe-inspiring. Technology has simplified tasks and made many things in life easier.

However, time spent in front of a screen is eating away at family time and eroding children’s social skills. As a parent, it’s important to regulate and put boundaries around your child’s screen time and use of devices. You may also need to address your own habit of checking messages, e-mails and Facebook.

6 simple steps to get in charge of the electronics at home:

  1. Decide the rules.
    ‘OK kids, Dad and I have been talking, and we’ve decided to introduce a new rule that on school days, after you’ve done your homework and chores screen time is going to be limited to an hour, and at the weekend you can have two hours. (You can adjust the screen time allowed. This is your family – your rules!)
    Dad and I will stick to the same rules, so it’s fair.’ (Optional, but advisable!)
  2. Ask your child WHY you’re introducing rules.
    ‘Why do you think we’re introducing rules about screen time? Why is it important?
  3. Discuss the rules with your child.
    ‘How do you feel about an hour? What would you spend your screen time doing? Do you need to record anything? When are your friends likely to be on-line? Would you like to set a time, say between 7 and 8, when you can go online? Do we need to agree on any exceptions? (Such as on family movie night.) How do you think you’ll feel when you need to turn it off? What will help you to turn it off more easily?’
  4. Decide rewards and consequences.
    ‘If you can follow the rules, you’ll get to earn your full hour of screen time the next day. However, if there is a fuss after you come off a game, you’ll forfeit 20 minutes from your next day’s screen time. If there’s a huge fuss turning it off, or you secretly play on your iPad in your room, then you’ll lose all your screen time the following day.
  5. Use a timer.
    When you have screen time, I’d like you to set a timer for the hour. I’ll also set a timer on my phone, that will go off five minutes after yours. When I come up to check, you’ll need to be off your game, and doing something else. If I come in, and you’re still playing on your game, you’ll need to turn it off straight away, and you’ll lose 20 minutes time the following day. Remember, if there’s a big fuss, you’ll lose the following day’s screen time completely.
    Would it help to set a timer with a 10-minute and a 5-minute warning, so you know when to save your game? Would it help to write a list of things you can do, after you turn your game off?
  6. Be consistent.
    You                        ‘Hey. You’re still on your game. Your timer must have gone off.’
    Child                      ‘Yes, I just need to finish this level. I’ll only be another minute.’
    You                        ‘You know the rule. When I come in, you should have turned the PlayStation off, and have found something else to do.’
    Child                      ‘It’s only a minute. Look I’m done now!’
    You                        (Calmly, not mentioning the consequence) ‘I get that it’s tough turning your game off at the right time. It’s really hard. Turn it off now, and then you can start winding down before bed.’
    The following day
    Parent                  Calmly and firmly, refusing to argue: ‘Yesterday, you carried on playing after your timer had gone off. So today you can have 40 minutes of screen time. You can earn your full hour tomorrow if you stick to your time today, and there are no fusses. OK?’

Good luck!

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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