Hands up if you’ve figured out how to balance your family’s screen time with real world activities? Not me!
In our household, we have some good weeks – daily conversations at the dinner table, and real world adventures. Then, something will come up – usually work or school-related (or both) – and out come those screens. Before we know it, we’ve fallen prey to addictive social media, sensationalist (and negative) newsfeeds, and games and apps designed specifically to devour your time. And it takes a big effort to shake off what can quickly becomes a screen-guzzling habit.
So what to do?
At a law seminar (of all places), I stumbled on a terrific resource for parents and kids, with several tips for staying in control of technology. It was created by the Center for Humane Technology – a not-for-profit co-founded by a former Google employee and ethicist, Tristan Harris.
Here are some of the tips that resonated most with us – both as parents and speech pathologists:
- Lead by example: Especially in the early years, kids learn by watching and imitating their parents and other loved ones. Most kids watch what their parents do – sometimes much more carefully than listening to what we say. If we parents are looking at our phones and other devices frequently, and if we’re distracted by screens rather than engaging with people and physical environment around us, our kids will learn to do exactly the same thing. (To learn more about the positive effects of parent modelling, check out our article here.)
- Device-free zones: In our house, for example, devices are not allowed at the dinner table (including when out at restaurants and cafes with the family) or in bedrooms. That forces us to talk to each other – even on days where one or more of us would rather scroll through social media or tap at sparkly objects on a screen.
- One for the parents: get a standalone alarm clock: Too many of us use our phones as our alarm clock. This tricks us into using our phones, e.g. to look at social media notifications and news, first thing after we wake up, and last thing before we go to bed. One way of eliminating this risk is moving your phones to another room and using a low tech (boring) clock radio to signal when to get up.
- Turn devices off at least an hour before bedtime: Most people are aware of the fact that the blue light emitted by phones and iPads hampers sleep. If you can’t do it (e.g. for work reasons), at least turn your devices into “Night Mode” with less blue light. I’m trying to switch my bad habit of checking my Twitter feed to reading a short story a day. But it’s a battle!
- No devices in the room during homework: This is a tricky one in this age of “bring your own device” to school. But there’s some evidence showing that even the presence of a device can distract students, reducing their cognitive capacity, including their working memory and fluid intelligence on tasks requiring sustained attention (e.g. Ward et al., 2017). Bottom line: put the phone in another room when you are studying.
- Schedule regular screen-free days: Some families manage to to do this once a week. I’m in awe of them! We struggle, in part, because of work commitments, in part, because of bad habits. To do this successfully, it helps to pre-plan activities, including activities with other families and children attempting the same thing!
- Find substitute activities that are relaxing, creative, social and give you a sense of achievement. In our family, we’re scheduling activities like running, reading, learning another language, martial arts and of course our beloved father-son Dungeons & Dragons time.
We hope you find these tips helpful. Check out the links below for several other ideas.
Start with modest changes. And remember: as a society, we’re all in this together!
- Defrazzle and reconnect: tips for families to talk to each other to stimulate language development
- Defrazzle: Ironfest (huzzah!)
- Resources to learn grammar: using auditory bombardment to improve kids’ expression and grammar skills
Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.
Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language
Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.