Screens are everywhere.
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Need to learn something new about a topic you’re interested in? Google it. Want to talk to your friends? Use Snapchat, Messenger, Viber, Telegram, WhatsApp, or Discord. Need some time for entertainment to blow off some steam? YouTube or Twitch is your answer.
Today we live in a tech-centric world. The average US adult spends 3 hours and 43 minutes daily on a screen. The number is even higher for children. Using a screen and being digitally savvy has become so important that you’re at a huge disadvantage compared to others if you aren’t.
So, how do you deal with this if you’re a parent? How do you stop your child from spending so much time on their screens and ensure their screen usage doesn’t negatively impact their life?
It is possible to reduce screen time for children; You need to do it methodically and carefully. Follow our guide below for a step-by-step process.
Why Too Much Screen Time Is Bad For Your Child
The biggest reason why excess screen time is bad for your child is that it is heavily impacting one or several other areas of their lives, such as:
- Social life
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Family relationships
Too much screen time is often the consequence of poor school performance. For example, one study has shown that watching television for two hours straight lowers the reading ability for eight and 9-year-olds.
But perhaps even more importantly, screens can take attention away from important tasks, such as studying, reading, learning new things, or doing homework. And the consequence is lower grades and poorer performance (and consequently, being further behind later in life).
Too much screen time is also responsible for a worse (or a lack of) social life. Many children neglect real-life relationships and friendships because using screens is easier and more comfortable. Although technology allows children to connect with friends on messaging apps and video games, it’s important to ensure it’s not detrimental to face-to-face interactions and relationships.
Excessive screen use is also heavily linked to obesity, lower levels of physical health, and deteriorated mental health and depression in adolescence. All of these areas are often interlinked with each other; physical health impacts mental health and vice-versa. Read more on the negative effects of gaming.
Why Do Children Use Screens so Much?
Before we dive into the steps of reducing your child’s screen time, you should first understand why it happens in the first place. Knowing what drives excessive screen use will help you cope with your specific situation better, especially if you find one of these reasons responsible for your child’s screen use.
Screens are Addictive
If you follow the world of technology or social media even vaguely, then you probably already know that apps and video games are designed to be addictive.
Developers design their products to optimize engagement. This naturally leads to features that keep as many people as possible hooked and coming back for more. Not only that, games are increasingly designed for users to spend as much money as possible on in-game purchases to maximize profits.
Bullying might be another reason why your child is resorting to using screens so much. Social media apps, video games, and other forms of entertainment on screens are much more comfortable and low-risk compared to real life, where bullying exists.
Screens, video games, and apps often become coping mechanisms for children who are bullied or experiencing social challenges in schools.
As a parent, be aware if your child is using games or apps to escape from stress, as they may be experiencing difficult challenges such as bullying at school.
A primary reason your child might be using screens too much is simple – they’re bored and don’t have anything else to do.
The truth is that you, or many other parents, might find it incredibly difficult to motivate your child to do anything else other than play video games.
One factor is that video games address some of the most important needs that your child might have, and they’re so comfortable, so they don’t have the motivation to do anything else.
The key will be finding alternative activities that can replace video games and the needs they address for your child, such as:
- A sense of achievement
Problems in School/Life
Video games and screens often become coping mechanisms for real-life problems. For example, some children use screens because they might have anxiety about something they’re looking to avoid in school or life.
Screens are the easiest form of escape for many children. They don’t offer any significant risks, and they’re also accessible, so they use them instead of enduring more problems in the real world.
Of course, that’s not a good long-term solution for this problem. The opportunity here is to focus on the issues in school or life that your child might be facing. That’s why you’ll need to form a closer relationship with your child and learn how to talk to them with empathy, which you can learn more about in our Reclaim program.
Sense of Achievement
Video games and apps offer a sense of achievement, too. Killing that new boss, building something inside the game, or getting likes on the social media app feels satisfying, and it starts to replace the achievement you could receive from real-world challenges.
It would help to promote activities in the real world that provide the same sense of achievement as video games or apps do. There are many such activities; you’ll need to help your child discover what they love by trying new things or adding a goal or structure to a new hobby. Use our Hobby Tool to help you find activity ideas.
How to Reduce Your Child’s Screen Time – Step By Step
Now that you know why your child might be spending so much time on their screens, it’s time to take action.
With these steps, you’ll be able to get to know your child better, craft a better and more trustworthy relationship, and help them shift the focus away from screens to other activities.
Understand Your Child
While it might be tough to build a rapport with a child that gets aggressive when you ask them about their screen usage, you must try to do it anyways.
You’ll need to approach this with empathy and understanding. You can start by understanding what games they play and what they like about them. What are their underlying motivations to play? What drives and motivates them? And when you do this, be as understanding as possible.
It’s best to try and talk to them when they’re not playing video games or on their screens. This will be the time when they’re more open to talking. Also, ask them open-ended questions but don’t attack or argue with them; we want to develop a connection, not tension.
Build a Rapport
You’ll want to have as many conversations as you need to with your child about this topic. Showing some interest in an activity they engage in without judgment or arguing is a good start.
The most important thing here is to get them to trust you. And to do that, you’ll need to show a good level of understanding of what is going on in their lives and how you can support them.
You can then gently nudge them toward other activities and even offer to do them together. It can also be helpful if you work with other parents to organize group activities or playdates. Of course, this is only the initial strategy, but depending on the severity of your situation, you may need to use other tactics to get them off their screens.
Create a Plan
Next, you’ll want to determine what your goal is with your child:
- Do you want to eliminate excess screen time use?
- Or reduce it? We recommend focusing here first.
At first, you might find it easier if you aim to reduce your child’s screen time. You’ll need to find a structure and plan that works best for you and your family case. To do that, you’ll need to set boundaries and limitations for screen time use.
Consider what will work best for you. For example, setting up daily limits works better for some people, while for others, weekly limits work best. You can try to set up both and implement them for some time to see what works best. Others have found setting up alternate days for screen time use is more effective. Learn more by reading our guide to Screen Time Guidelines by Age.
You might also need to think about how to shut off screens and who will be responsible for that task. For example, your child’s phone is left in your bedroom when it’s time for bed, so they are not distracted and developing poor sleeping habits.
Implement Your Plan
Now that you have built your plan, it’s time to implement it.
The first step is to discuss what your family’s media plan will be with your children is also important. Please give them a voice in what they think their limits should be and how you can best work together as a family to be accountable to them. Next, you may want to discuss the consequences of breaking the agreement. If you do, make sure these consequences are meaningful and that you will follow through with them; otherwise, they will not work.
Note that they may experience withdrawal symptoms of excess screen use in the first few days. Please familiarize yourself with these symptoms and acknowledge them as they occur, and have strategies in place to address them proactively as they occur. For personal support for your family, please book a consultation with our team.
The next step will be to find replacement activities to replace screen use. Again, you can use our hobby tool for this, where you’ll find tons of different activities and hobbies that you can try with your child.
At the same time, you’ll want to deal with the triggers that you have identified that cause your child to use their screen so much. So you’ll still need to monitor the screen use closely and talk to your child regularly, and keep the relationship going that you’ve already established.
Evaluate the Plan Constantly
Now that you have set up the plan and implemented it, it’s time to see how it works. You should know that the plant might not work as you initially intended, so you’ll need to come back to the drawing board and see what is and what isn’t working. We recommend evaluating your plan once per month.
You might change some aspects of the plan. Here, the tips we’ve provided are not cookie-cutter steps but rather general tips that many people have found helpful.
To build and implement a successful family media plan for your family, inquire about our coaching programs.
If you need help with reducing your child’s screen time, then you should know that we’re here to help. We have designed a Reclaim program specifically for parents like you who want to know how to reduce their child’s screen use.
In this program, you’ll learn how to build a better relationship with your child and manage their screen time use effectively while also implementing the methods we’ve talked about in this article and more.
You might also want to consult with a therapist, especially if comorbid conditions exist, such as ADHD, suicidal ideation, autism, or OCD.
We have other resources you can use, such as: