Worried parents are told that limiting their children’s screen time is essential.
“Experts” advise restricting access and most parents go along with this.
I understand why. There are so many scary stories going around about gaming addiction, technology that’s designed to manipulate our minds and harm done to children’s brain development.
If you are looking around for justification for restricting screen time or gaming, you’ll certainly find it.
So parents go ahead and take away their child’s device, ban the game play or make strict rules around screen time.
But there’s another radical option.
It involves having a connected, respectful, cooperative relationship with your child.
To have this kind of relationship means focusing on trust, support, encouragement and play. It also means being willing to question those scary stories about screen time.
I’m not saying limits are wrong, but I’m going to invite you to consider some different points of view.
Here are some reasons not to impose restrictions on screens and gaming:
1. They may think you’re mean.
You will be taking away or limiting something your child loves. This will most likely make them upset and angry. They will think you’re horrible. If they express their feelings to you this will likely make you upset and angry too. So now everyone is suffering.
Your relationship could be based on joy, connection and kindness. I’m not saying that’s going to be easy, but it will feel a whole lot better than being your child’s adversary and struggling every day over screens..
2. They may think you don’t love them.
You are probably telling your child that the games or other content they so love is “bad”, “harmful”, “rubbish” or some other harsh judgement. Your child could easily end up thinking that they are bad or not good enough too. Judgements create painful feelings. Is that what you really want?
3. Can you be certain that you’re right?
No doubt you’ve read or heard that gaming or screen time can be harmful for children and you’re worried. But can you be sure that it’s true? Is it really that black and white? How much is “too much” and do different children have different experiences? Can you easily navigate all the conflicting advice and “studies” that you are bombarded with these days?
Can you think of 3 things that you were told by your parents were “bad for you” that you did anyway and didn’t actually harm you? Maybe eating lots of chocolate, watching scary movies or playing video games? Ask yourself again; can you be absolutely sure that screen time is harming your child?
4. It doesn’t promote self-regulation.
If you control how your child uses technology they won’t get a chance to learn what their own body is telling them. Just like with food, our bodies send us signals to keep us in balance; we can feel uncomfortable, restless or get flare ups of emotion when we’ve been using devices for a long time. Over time, and with a parents gentle support, children learn to listen to these signals – but not if they never get the chance due to imposed limits.
5. It doesn’t promote learning.
By limiting use of technology you are also limiting what your child can learn from using it. Many video games are very difficult and take time to learn. There are skills to be acquired and the logic of the game to be understood. Children gain great confidence when they have the time to engage deeply with a game and master it. Likewise, children may want to immerse in a genre of movies or a few channels on YouTube to fully absorb the information, details, stories, humour or because they like the way it sparks their imagination. The more you get involved and connect with their interests, the more you will learn about your child and observe what they are learning.
6. It makes life a struggle.
Do you really want to be constantly struggling with your children? Have you considered the toll that this takes on a relationship over time? You are almost certainly noticing the toll that it takes on your wellbeing and maybe also your health.
Wouldn’t you rather your child saw you as a partner and ally? Someone who was modeling happiness and respectful relationships?
7. It makes them want it more and invites sneaking.
When you set limits and restrict the use of technology you will strengthen your child’s desire for it. When it’s restricted your child is more likely to binge, hyper-focus, get anxious or sneak time when you’re not watching. They can never fully relax and enjoy their play or viewing because they will be worried that it will be taken away.
8. You want your kids to learn problem solving skills.
If you step in and impose limits and rules when you have a problem with their gaming or screen time you will be teaching them that the way to solve problems is to exercise power over others. Is this what you really want them to learn? Wouldn’t you rather they learned a process of cooperative problem solving instead?
9. Do you want to break out of the bad guy role?
Do you want to be an authoritarian policing figure in your child’s life? Do you want them to be afraid of your threats, yelling or punishments?
My clear answer was No. But at first I didn’t know what else to do. I’d resorted to the same techniques that my own parents used, even though I didn’t like them. That’s why I started a fresh approach. I learned a system for dealing with my issues and solving problems in a peaceful, respectful and cooperative way. I share this system that worked so well for me in the course Making Peace with Screens and Gaming.
10. If they get stuck or upset you’ll be there to help out.
There will inevitably be challenges. What sort of activities that children love don’t have challenges? At some stage they will see something that scares or upsets them. They will have a falling out with a friend online. They will get stuck in a game and lose their temper in frustration.
If you are involved and supportive of your child’s gaming or screen time, they’re much more likely to come to you for help if they need it. If they think that all they’re going to get from you is another harsh judgement of their passion, then they’ll struggle on by themselves or ask someone else. Wouldn’t you like to be the person they turn to?
My two sons were passionate about video games and devoted countless hours to playing them. That’s why I understand the fears that parents face – I faced them all myself.
When I made the choice not to limit their screen time (unless there was a clear agreement made with my children) a whole new world opened up for me. It was a world of shared play, connection and adventure where we met the challenges and learned together.
If you would like to learn more about my system for living in harmony with children and technology have a look at my course Making Peace with Screens and Gaming.