If you are a parent who is trying to find a screen life balance for you and your kids, you are not alone!
Many of us are realising that with internet going portable, private and personal it's so much harder to supervise and support our children online.
But the good news is that there are some simple things you can do to help your children (and you!)
Have a look at our Top Tips guide (right) which can help you prepare for a ScreenLess adventure.
There are also a range of articles and resources below. Personal stories from other parents If you have ideas or links to other resources do send them to us.
When it comes to the topic of excessive screen use there are a number of issues which parents tell us they struggle with. These can be grouped into 3 main headings:
1 LACK OF CONFIDENCE
As is our confidence, so is our capacity”.
Many of us as parents struggle with this issue, because at times we don’t have the confidence to instigate some rules and ‘boundaries’ around our children’s use of screens. It takes a lot of confidence (and indeed courage) to stand up to the prevailing attitude that having constant access to the world through your mobile or internet connection is just normal and an indispensible part of children’s lives. Yes it could be seen as indispensible and normal for children but it’s not the only thing children need!
Remember the ScreenLess week is NOT about stopping access to the Internet and smart phones or somehow banning access, but rather a chance to simply slow down, think of a few ways to limit the endless tide of screen activity and re-calibrate how we all – adults and children alike - interact with our screens. You need confidence to try new approaches to parenting, confidence to maintain the rules, confidence in our belief that it will make a positive difference. Indeed the key to having confidence is being positive and optimistic.
What we have found is that confidence is something which grows through taking small steps and noticing the small achievements. As the deaf-blind American author and political activist Helen Keller said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence”.
So to help you with your confidence in tackling this issue we suggest:
- · Have the confidence to start by having that conversation with your friends and family. You’ll be heartened to hear of other people’s stories and to know you are not alone. (See the stories section on the website to read others’ experiences)
- · Have the confidence to start implementing a few baby step rules such as limiting screens at set times of the day or at meal times, or on just one set day of the week.
- · Have the confidence to try to cut down yourself and through doing so reflect on what’s been good for you. If it works you’ll have more confidence!
2 LACK OF CLARITY
“Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.”
It’s funny how as parents we can often recognise our children’s clarity of purpose, their drive and their focus for something. Indeed we see many children focused intently on their games consoles and passionate about their new found skills on FIFA 13 or Speed Racing games.
Contrast this for a moment with many parents’ ambivalence about their children’s use of screen-times. On the one hand we can boast that our children are “so media savvy and proficient in all things digital” but on the other, we genuinely regret some of the intrusion that screens have in our lives and are anxious that our children are missing out on things which were important when we were growing up in our screenless world.
As you think about this need for clarity, it’s vital to reflect carefully about the real reasons for running a screen-less activity. Don’t start a screen-less activity as a way of punishing your children or because you are frustrated about their excessive use. See this as a positive opportunity which is going to require hard work and commitment. Indeed we recommend that you start small and be realistic. It may be best to simply have one screen-less day a week rather than a whole week.
Having clarity about your values and what you believe in is important. Even if you are ambivalent how much screen-time should be restricted, it’s good to have clarity about why you want to at least try and discuss the issue. Of course having clarity is also linked to the degree of Confidence and Consistence you have, so all these are inter-related. You never know, but reflecting on your values and having some clarity about what you feel is best for your children you will have more confidence to trust your instincts and be consistent in your approach to helping your children and whole family! So often we feel that the way we were brought up, and our parent’s values are diluted and out dated for this generation. However, without resorting to a nostalgic, bygone age, it is helpful to think about what made our screen-less childhood different to that of our children’s screen-full lives and reflect on what if anything we have missed?
Having clarity about why you are doing ScreenLess week; what you would like to see as a result; what ‘good balanced screen-time looks like” and how you can find stickable solutions and focused outcomes is a good place to start. SO as you try this have:
- · Some clarity about what a balanced screen-life would look like. If you think 2 hours a day is fine be clear about this and think of the best times when screens can be used (e.g. not before school or not after 9pm) Having some clear boundaries are helpful.
- · Some clarity about how you will monitor the impact of this activity. Will you keep a diary; will you invest in some non-screen activities BEFORE you start? How will you enforce and support your whole family in doing this?
- · Some clarity about rewards and re-entry. Be clear from the outset that this is a time-limited exercise and that there will rewards for completing the tasks (tangible and non-tangible!).
3) LACK OF CONSISTENCY
“Getting an audience is hard. Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.”
One of the most important job of being successful is consistency. Whether that is as an artist, someone serving the public or even being a parent. Consistency is King!
We often hear that “Children don’t do what we tell them, they do what we do !“ Indeed, when it comes to the internet we often tell them that they are becoming addicted to their screens, to which they reply “yes, but you are too, it’s just that you call it work !” This ScreenLess stuff can be painful!
It’s difficult at the best of times but so hard when there are competing pressures, demands and expectations from our children. In this area of screen use it’s also difficult because there are some obvious contradictions. For example we want children to cut down on screens but they need it for their homework. We want to restrict access to our e-mails on our smart phones but then it all piles up and ironically we know we will spend more time on the screen answering them when we have to catch up with the days communication. Then there is the most common one, “ I know that they have been on those screens for so long but at least they are quiet and I can get on with my work !”
So when it comes to consistency we’ve found a number of helpful tips such as:
- · Be consistent in what you say and what you do. For example if you say “ You have 5 minutes more on that screen before it goes off,” make sure it is only 5 minutes more. If you say “That’s your last go,” follow through and make it the last go. Children of all ages can feel more secure when you are consistent.
- · Be consistent in your own behaviour and actions. If you are planning on having a screen-free meal make sure you don’t get out your screen even if you ‘have’ to take this call from work. If you don’t think you can keep a rule yourself don’t try to enforce it on others !
- · Be consistent about what activities your children can do online. During a screen-free week activity we suggest drawing up a list of things which you all can’t do without. It’s really empowering to recognise that some activities are impossible to cut. However, once you have identified these things be consistent about enforcing them. We will slop and fail but be honest about these. Recognise too that when you stop certain things, other things start ! We all have the same amount of finite time and ScreenLess week is about looking at other ways in which to share it!
CONFIDENCE, CLARITY and CONSISTENCY are some of the 'tools' which will help you make this work. We appreciate that it’s much easier to say than do, but we hope this reflection will help you make Screen Less week a great experience, one full of learning and challenge but also rewarding as a parent or carer.
Of course there are very good reasons why you may not be able to use start a ScreenLess activity, however there are some simple techniques which can help you be less stressed when you are using technology.
Here is a simple advice sheet about feeling less stressed online written by our friend Mary Louise Morris.
We live in an age of multitasking with a constant stream of stimuli offered by technologies. The lure of technology is particularly powerful for young people, making it more challenging for them to sustain attention, which can pose difficulties for focusing and learning. It is perhaps not a co-incidence that Mindfulness has now become so popular and is being adopted by some of the most respected schools in the country. " Read more here
Read Stephen's article in the Guardian newspaper about his experiences and has also written further reflection pieces about what he feels is online empathy erosion