No matter the age of your kids, there is one thing all parents tear their hair out about: managing our children’s screen time.
Our kids live in a virtual candy store of games, online streaming, TV kids’ channels, giant Kinder eggs and YouTubers … as parents, how do we keep it all under control?
A recent news report interviewed a 13-year-old boy who was so addicted to gaming that he had missed almost a whole school year. Yet, when the reporter asked the parents the obvious question: Why don’t you just take away the tech? They shrugged hopelessly and said it wasn’t worth the violent tantrums.
Screen time is both a parenting problem and a kids’ problem. We can all relate to that feeling of relief when the kids are finally quiet and we get a much-needed break.
There is nothing wrong with that. We all need chill time— including our kids. ‘We know that kids who play video games and use technology for an hour a day are actually psychologically healthier than kids who spend three or more hours a day with video games, and also psychologically healthier than kids who don’t spend any time at all,’ says president of LearningWorks for Kids, Dr Randy Kulman.
Yet, screen time is deeply addictive. It releases dopamine—our body’s natural reward system, which motivates us to do important things like eat, exercise, give a hug, solve a problem and so on.
Games, in particular, release high levels of this feel-good chemical. Most games are based on rewards: you have a challenge, you achieve it, you go up a level, you feel good! The designs are also made to give us a rush—much like the hyperreality of a casino or shopping mall, made to suck you in so you never want to leave.
‘So set and enforce your limits, but add in some empathy and understanding too,’ advises The Parenting Place. Encourage them and agree limits together. Find alternative healthy sources of dopamine—friendships, outdoor play and sports …
But be warned: it won’t work immediately. ‘Don’t expect the natural highs to give the same immediate, intense, addictive rush that a video game can deliver. It would be like someone saying, “Leave that donut – you’ll find this salad is much more enjoyable!”’ says The Parenting Place.
‘The best substitute? Your encouragement, smiles, affection and approval. They’re some of the few things powerful enough to make kids feel better than an Xbox.’