Every parents attitude to screen time is going to be different, but it’s an issue that can’t be avoided. My eldest child is now of an age (eleven) where I feel she is responsible enough for her own phone, but in comparison to her peers she’s a bit of a late starter, with some kids using smartphones from as young as eight. Like every parent has a different attitude towards this issue, every child will cope with this new world differently too, so how can you ensure you’re being responsible when it comes to screen time?
Social media and its impact can be a very worrying issue the more you look into it, but it’s a phenomenon that is here to stay, so here are a few ways I am attempting to navigate it…
Rationing Screen Time
It goes without saying that unlimited screen time for a tween probably isn’t the best idea, but on the other side of the coin, I’ve found banning it completely isn’t the way to go either. Think about limiting it to a small amount after school every day and a bit longer at weekend.
Putting Content in Context
It’s natural for anyone (children AND adults) to compare themselves to other people who post on social media, so it’s important to talk to your children about what they’re really seeing. Photos on Instagram are only the side that people want to show of themselves and aren’t necessarily an accurate reflection of their everyday lives. Encourage a dialogue with your children about who they follow, what YouTube channels they subscribe too and what their opinions are about the things they see. And always tell them that just because someone says something on the internet, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
Emphasising the Positives
It’s all too easy to focus on all the negative impacts of social media but let’s not forget, it does spread a lot of good cheer too. Young people can find out about social initiatives, exchange ideas and develop their opinions on topical issues. Sites like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls share inspiring content for young women and the BBC’s Newsbeat site puts a young person’s perspective on current affairs. Although screen time could have a negative effect on mental health, it could also help increase awareness of such issues too.
Trying a Different Sort of Screen Time
It may sound strange, advocating one type of screen time over another, but one sure fire way of getting my kids to put down their phones and tablets for a bit is to take them to the cinema. And this type of family time often carries on long after the film finishes if we have a chat about what we have seen afterwards. This also works to a lesser extent with our ‘family film nights’ once a week, but there’s always the chance they will pick up their phones or wander off if they’re bored.
Not Spending Too Much on That First Handset
A new smartphone is an expensive piece of tech. It may not feel like that a lot of the time because very few of us pay for one outright, but would you really entrust any other item of that value to a pre-teen? I would recommend investing in a refurbished phone with decent storage and combine this with a low cost monthly plan. You can source good prices on voucher code websites like My Favourite Voucher Codes as well as compare secondhand or marketplace handsets. Just don’t forget to invest in a decent cover and screen protector too, because the chances of it being dropped or knocked about a bit are fairly high.
Not Making Alternatives a Punishment
In an ideal world, we’d all love it if our kids picked up a book instead of a phone, but that might not happen too often. However, when it comes to reading it’s important not to treat it as a punishment or a chore, with screen time being a reward once they’ve completed some reading. I talk about books in a positive way, point them in the direction of an original book if they’ve enjoyed a screen adaptation and just keep my fingers crossed that they’ll eventually find one that will spark a love of reading.
Screen time will always have its positives and negatives. Just make sure you keep yourself informed about what you children are looking at online and encourage healthy discussions about content.