Most parents we support struggle with screen time: how long to be ‘on’, how to get them ‘off’, which gadgets they should allow and what can they play and watch, or not!
Example: Sam is 11 years old and has a birthday coming up. He has a PlayStation and now really wants this new game that ALL the others are playing! Parents think this through without Sam present, perhaps talking to their partner or co-parent, or discussing with a friend. ‘Am I OK with this new game’? ‘Why are we not sure about this, what is the downside’? Maybe he already has lots of games and the fear is that more will lead him to be distracted from homework, activities or participating in family life – areas that perhaps are already a struggle!
Solution 1: You decide that YOU don’t want to buy it for him as you don’t agree with it. But HE can save up for it and buy it with his own money as long as you can all agree to a schedule of when he can and cannot play before he buys it (see below how to ‘plan it’), and any other rules you might want to introduce.
Solution 2: No, he cannot have it at all as it’s already a struggle with what he has right now! A flat NO! Here you have to allow him to be upset and ‘grieve’ for what he cannot have. But you must stick to your decision and not open the conversation up to negotiation by using too many words. But you might also decide to add that if he can show that his current gadgets are not controlling homework, activities, his mood and family life then you will reconsider. You need to be very specific with what this looks like: what he has to do, not do, say or not say etc., and in what agreed time-frame, in order for you to reconsider.
Solution 3: You will buy it for him with an agreement on when he can or cannot play and the rules around this new game. You sit with Sam and tell him that you will give it to him but that there are some rules. Parents should state their concerns using an I-message (no finger pointing), ‘I’m a bit concerned that it will lead to more time away from homework and me nagging more and I don’t really want that – do you have an idea of how this can work?’ Sam thinks that for the first 2 days he should be able to play as much as he likes because it is new and he just wants to ‘go mad’ with it – then there can be some rules around it.
Together you agree: when he CAN play (make it positive). For instance, ‘WHEN you have done your homework and showed it to us and we are happy with it THEN you can go on your new game for 40 minutes’. At the weekend the plan looks different! You agree to try this for 1 week and see how it goes. If all goes ok, then it would increase to 50 minutes and then 60 minutes. If the ‘deal’ is not working then he can only play on the weekends at certain times. And then put it in writing so it’s clear and all sign the deal! You also agree that Sam has to participate in family meals and do his daily chores BEFORE any form of gaming!
Now it’s YOUR job as parents to be consistent with this and also not open up for negotiation. You should expect a little bit of ‘please can I have 10 minutes more’ etc. But then you can come from a place of, ‘I can hear you are upset and I understand but we stick to the deal’. You also allow Sam to ‘grieve’ for what he can’t have or do (i.e. the game all the time) and let him be upset or angry – just ignore it!
This way of planning for new gadgets can also be used for planning your summer with screen time in general.
From the ParentingSuccess Team
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