In a simpler, more innocent time, limiting screen time was cited by many parents as one of their major parenting concerns. In a 2019 Pew Research Centre poll, 71% of parents with a child under the age of 12 said they were concerned about the amount of time their kids spent in front of a screen.
This was, of course, before all hell broke loose, and we all (rightfully) gave up on the idea of limiting screen time, as we all had to find ways of surviving the exhaustion of lockdowns, school closures, Zoom fatigue, and everything else. When you are parenting during a pandemic, handing your child your phone so they can play a game or plopping them in front of a TV seems like a small price to pay if that means being just a little bit less exhausted at the end of the day.
But now, as we look toward a more normal future, those old screen time worries may be creeping back in. So the question is: How do we do we cut down on screen time once it has become such a habit?
Incorporate more non-technology rituals into the day
As Sarah Peck, a working mother of two and the founder of Startup Parent, suggests, one way to cut down on screen time is to start incorporating some non-technology rituals in our day.
“Rituals don’t have to be elaborate or long to be effective and meaningful,” Peck said. “Building rituals and routines can help you develop habits that support your goals.”
As Peck notes, if something is too hard, or it doesn’t add value to our lives, we just won’t have the time or energy to do it.
“I like to ask: How can I make this more fun?” Peck said. “I need more fun and joy, not more work.” Even if it’s as simple as spending ten minutes a day of dedicated, device-free, one-on-one time with your child or partner, that can go a long way.
Establish expectations around screen time
In terms of screen time, Peck has established a family routine that sets expectations about the use of devices. “We have dedicated times when we all use devices, and dedicated times we don’t,” Peck said.
For about an hour after school has ended, Peck’s family will all hang out in the living room, using their devices. “[This] gives my partner and I time to decompress after work, and it allows my kids to play a few video games and do online puzzles,” Peck said.
At a specific time, a timer will go off, signalling two minutes until the end of screen time, after which the expectation is that they will all put their devices away.
Then, they will have dinner together, where no devices are allowed. “It doesn’t matter if dinner is three minutes long or fifteen minutes, we just all sit down together at the same time for a brief space,” Peck said.
In addition to dedicated device time and a device-free family dinner, Peck also realised that her kids needed to burn up some excess energy at the end of the day. This led to creating another ritual of roughhousing in the evenings. “This is really helpful for all of us to get some of our physical energy out,” Peck said.
These are rituals that make sense for Peck’s family and their needs. Every family will be a little bit different, which means their rituals will likely be different, as well. What’s important is to establish a habit that works, and that adds meaning. The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to try and find a routine that makes your family life better.
If you are exhausted, give yourself permission to just make it through
These are suggestions that can help re-establish a sense of routine, while also helping to shift the attention away from our devices. However, as Peck notes, we are all just trying to do the best we can.
“There are a lot of parents just surviving out there,” Peck said. “If people feel burned out, overwhelmed, exhausted, or they’re still struggling, then skip all of this and just make it through.”
If survival is all you have energy for at the moment, and you don’t have the bandwidth to worry about screen time right now, that’s OK, too.