These days, screen time is one of the biggest sources of dispute between parents and their kids. When kids come home from school, often the last thing they want to do is start on their homework. Instead, they want to unwind from the day, and screens offer a tantalizingly perfect escape.
The problem is, that this can form negative and addicting habit cycles that could carry on into adulthood. If you’re looking to cut down your child’s after-school screen time, here are four ways to do so.
Part of the issue with screens is less the actual screens themselves and more what they provide access to. Many types of software, like apps, games, and social media, thrive on user engagement. This means the goal of these types of software is to make sure you’re using them as much as possible. Thus, they’re usually designed to be addictive so that you come back often.
If adult brains are susceptible to this kind of habit formation, how much more so is a child’s developing brain? Just as you want your kids to eat more healthy items than junk food, make sure they’re using healthy technology.
One way of doing this is to get them a phone for kids instead of a regular smartphone. This kind of phone prohibits access to addicting software like games and social media. If you choose the right tech, your child’s screen will have a less powerful pull when the final school bell rings.
One of the best ways to curb addictive behavior is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Habit expert James Clear notes that your environment can be a greater influence on your choices than your willpower. That’s why it’s important to design your physical environment to encourage you to make good decisions.
For example, if you want to eat fewer sweets, stock your pantry with nutritious snacks instead. In the same way, design your child’s temporal environment — their after-school schedule — with healthy choices. When you slot in fun activities after school, their opportunity to veg out on screen time simply doesn’t exist any longer.
Sports, clubs, and other afternoon activities are excellent ways for kids to spend their time still learning and growing. If they have homework to do, you can do some of your own work alongside them to help motivate them. From playdates to soccer, there are endless productive ways for your child to occupy those few hours after school.
This next tactic may seem counterintuitive, even paradoxical when compared to the previous point. But sometimes the best way to handle a challenging situation, instead of fighting it, is to go with it. Digital devices are everywhere nowadays, so telling your child they won’t get any screen time at all is unrealistic. So consider simply bounding that time. Remember, this is about cutting down, not eliminating entirely.
Consider scheduling screen time for an hour or two after dinner instead of right after school ends. Now that your kid’s afternoon is filled up, those after-dinner screen-time blocks are even more appealing. This will give your child something to look forward to once they’ve completed their responsibilities.
Keep in mind that most screen activities offer tangible rewards for completing them. Use this programming to your advantage — let screen time itself reward a day’s tasks well done. Again, this may seem strange at first. But by scheduling screen time into your child’s day, they may actually be less enticed by it during other times.
As your child continues to grow, they’re going to have to start making healthy decisions on their own. And while that day may be far off, the more time they have to practice responsible decision-making, the better.
Therefore, make a point of increasing the amount of responsibility your kiddo has, especially if they don’t have much already. Responsibilities, like chores, teach them to be accountable. These responsibilities require you to trust your child and for them to live up to the potential of that trust.
Sit down and have an intentional conversation with them about mindful tech use. Talk to your child about screen time, theirs and yours, and share how your own use of screens can affect your willpower. Illustrate for them the delicate tech/life balance that modern adults need to maintain to keep a healthy life going.
By initiating this kind of conversation, you subtly cue your respect for your child. They will come to realize they are capable of making wise decisions because you believe they are. The effectiveness of this approach will vary greatly depending on many factors, including their age. But you’d be surprised by how mature even young children can be when you respect their intelligence and awareness.
Screen time, by its very nature, can be addicting. Just as Netflix may call you after a long workday, Fortnite may be calling your kid after school. It’s important to make intentional choices about devices, activities, use time, and how you and your child approach them. Improvement takes time, dedication, and understanding.