You are by far the most influential person in your child’s life. They learn everything from YOU. Especially with day-to-day behaviors, how you treat yourself is how your kids, often, will treat themselves. So, how they use screens will be inspired—at least in part—by how you use them.
This is not to say how your kids use screens is your fault, and beating yourself up is counterproductive. Behavior, yours and theirs, isn’t set in stone and can easily be shifted. But first, you need to understand what behavior you’re showing.
Start by tracking how you use screens, and why you use them. Smartphones are the Swiss Army knife of modern living, after all, and you likely use your phone for everything from getting directions to tracking down recipes. And this is good modeling; showing your kids that you use it as a tool, not a distraction, will help them think of it differently.
Secondly, look at the times you don’t need to use it. Would you be better off reading a physical book than staring at your screen? Do you turn on the TV and just never turn it off once you get home? How do you use your phone, and why?
Once you understand how you use your screens, you can start ensuring your children also understand. After all, they’ve got no way of knowing that you’re looking up how many cups are in a quart while you’re cooking. For all they know, you’re fiddling with a game.
So, talk them through how and why you use it, and when. Be sure they understand that you’re using it as a tool, and encourage them to view smartphones that way. Then, for non-essential use, when it’s not a tool, start laying out some rules about how much time can be spent on screens. These rules should apply to everybody in the family, and everybody should agree to hold each other accountable.
On the opposite end, ensure that your family won’t want to look at screens by giving them alternatives. Make it easy to put the screens down by planning family activities. Set up times for your kids to hang out with their friends, instead of texting them. And, when screens are being used, try to make it a family activity or show interest in what your children are doing. Have them explain a favorite game to you. Watch movies together as a family, instead of five different movies on different screens.
Remember, your kids take your lead. By setting good standards for yourself, you’ll find that your children will have good habits with screens yourself. Need help weaning kids off screens? Learn more about Screen Time.