Overview: Kids learn as much from what parents do as what parents say. If you leave your phone aside during family time, limit time spent on certain apps like social media, and focus on the practical uses of your screens, children will pick up those habits as well.
Every parent quickly learns that their kids pick up what they do and say like sponges. Researchers call this “observational learning,” which is how kids can pick up the vocabulary, mannerisms, and strategies of adults.
This isn’t a one-to-one type of learning. Kids make their own decisions and learn from experience just like everyone else, much to the frustration of some parents. Yet it can be an important factor for parents to keep in mind and a powerful tool for teaching certain positive habits around screens.
Walking The Walk
The key for parents is to walk the walk when it comes to screen time. This doesn’t mean you should live a rigorously screen-free life, but it does mean that when you talk about tech use as a family, you have to remember it’s a two-way street.
Start with a self-assessment of your screen use. Ask yourself the following questions:
- When’s the first time you look at a screen during the day, and when is the last?
- How much time do you spend looking at a screen each day? How much of it is related to work or chores, and how much of it is personal time?
- Do you keep your phone with you during meal times and other times? Is it necessary to do so?
- Why do you use screens in your free time? Are you staying in touch with friends? Playing games? Reading books?
And of course, the most important question: Are you happy with the results? Would you be content if your kids answered the questions in the same way? If not, then it’s time to change the behavior you model.
Writing Screen Rules
Any rules around screens should apply, as much as possible, to the entire family, using a family contract or similar mechanism. Rules like no screens during meals, no screens during work, and spending time away from screens to craft, read, go outside, exercise, and so on, should extend to everybody. This is a good place to make it about family time. Make sure rules are posted for all family members to read.
Another aspect to consider is putting parental control software on your own phone to see how you do with abiding by the rules. Habits can be so ingrained that we don’t realize we’re pulling out our phones to check the news or see who updated Facebook until we’re doing it. This can help you set fairer standards for your kids.
In places where the rules diverge, talk about the difference between kids and adults. If there’s an emergency at work and you need to have your phone handy, explain that to your kids. Also discuss why rules may be different from household to household, or why your tween may have different rules from your grade schooler, to smooth over disagreements.
Parental control software can help keep the rules in place and help kids make better choices around screen time. Help your kids get better screen time, with Screen Time.