A practical guide to limiting screen time

...and connecting with your children

Life is hectic. Full of things that demand our attention and need to be done (right now!) before we can even think about relaxing, unwinding and giving our children the focus they deserve.

How many times a week do you promise yourself you’ll spend ‘play time’ with your kids just as soon as you finish the next thing on your list? Often while the little ones are quite literally left to their own devices…

So, how do you break this cycle?

There’s no ‘one true way’ of approaching this, and no silver bullet, it’s a puzzle with many moving parts. BUT there are ways of setting yourself up for a better chance of achieving it. Actions that can be taken that we guarantee will make a positive change in your household.

By integrating digital in a manner in-line with your own family’s ideals, being conscious of how you spend your time together, and pushing a mindset of curiosity, discovery and adventure, you’ll give yourself a good head-start on the journey together.
 
We’ve created the following framework to help support you in this.
  • Our 6-Principles are a series of foundational staples that form the basis of our system.
  • Whilst the 6-Step Activation Plan shows you how to start implementing these principles over the short, mid and long term.

NOTE: when we refer to ‘children’ we’re predominantly talking about (roughly) 6-11 year olds. Everything in here still mostly applies to children either side of this age, but if they’re much older or younger they would also benefit from tactics and perspectives we’ll be covering in a later article.

Children outdoors looking at bugs through a magnifying glass
“Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain.” 

– Martin Mull

6 Principles to live by

1. Strive for balance

  • Digital is here to stay. Do what you can to integrate it naturally within your life, without letting it become a dependency.
  • As with everything, too much of one thing upsets the whole.
  • Most importantly, balance it’s usage against the real world activities that truly bond you as a family. Spending time together, no matter how, is the most effective thing you can do to create meaningful connections between you and your children.

2. Be kind to yourself

  • Life is full-on. It’s supposed to be, that’s what makes it life!
  • Don’t give yourself grief over not doing all the things you think you’re supposed to do.
  • And don’t judge yourself against the Insta-lives of others. They feel the same as you, and struggle with the same day-to-day things – they may just be better at taking (un)filtered photos with their kids 😉
  • Sometimes it’s just good enough to get through the day.

3. Be aware

  • Of yourself, of your children, of your family as a whole.
  • What motivates you? What makes you happy? What do you want to achieve in life? What are the things you want and don’t want to be doing together?
  • Once you start becoming mindful of where you actually spend your time, then you can decide what you want to do with it.

4. Set yourself goals

  • Knowing where you want to get to in life – or how you want to live it – is a powerful thing.
  • From there you can work out what you need to do to achieve it – as a family.
  • Giving you something tangible to measure yourself against, instead of using other people’s lives as a benchmark.
  • Remember, your goals are your own. They are not the same as other families, your friends, or your colleagues.

5. Find the EPIC in the everyday

  • The world is a wondrous place. But we often move so fast or have so many things on our mind that we take it for granted.
  • The simplest of things can be made into an adventure if you look at them the right way. Ultimately this is how kids are wired to see the world, but we become jaded over time….
  • Sometimes you need to pause, breathe, and step sideways to see things a little differently. Take a moment to be young again… 😃

6. Fuel your child's spirit for adventure

  • Give them what they need to continue seeing the world in this way – promote a sense of discovery, curiosity, imagination and growth. Above all, give them the tools to ask themselves ‘What if?…’
  • Finding the inspiration and time to play isn’t always easy. But if time is poor, give them what you can and make it as meaningful as possible:
  • Set them up with what they need to play, explore and discover for themselves; 
  • Jump in where it really matters and provide a little steerage – make them feel capable and supported;
  • And if you’re really pushed for time, taking a moment to listen to their thoughts, a kind word and a hug will go miles.
Children laying on a play ground next to some chalk drawinings

6 Step Activation Plan

SHORT TERM

Step 1

Don't feel guilty

  • Many of us use screen-time as a way of entertaining our children whilst we’re un-available. Don’t beat yourself up about it. We all have different reasons, ideals and tolerances around what is acceptable.
  • And remember, there are many great benefits to children using technology, particularly when viewed as a tool and leverage point for their creativity and education.
  • Denying ourselves and our family its usage is only going to cause other issues further down the line. It’s an important part of the world they will grow up into and they will need to know digital in a way that perhaps we didn’t have to.
  • Encouraging a child to read is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. Supporting their ability to self regulate emotions and delay gratification, all whilst opening up new creative horizons! However, getting your child off of their tablet and into a book can be a whole different story. Which is why we created ‘Havoc in a Hippo’, an interactive story app that acts as a bridge for children that are more prone to play games than read books – helping use their ‘screen time’ in a more productive manner.

Step 2

Be mindful of their usage

  • Recognise when they are in front of a screen – be aware of the time they spend and what they’re doing on there.
  • Ask yourself, are you comfortable with the amount of time they’ve spent today or this week?
  • Be aware of and recognise the ‘side effects’ of too much usage. Are they getting irritable and won’t put the device down when you ask them? How amped are they when really they should be in ‘wind down’ mode before bed?
  • If it fits your own family’s tolerances then no problem.
  • If it doesn’t, see Step 1. Then ask yourself, could they be using it in a manner that is more productive? For instance in a more creative or educational manner. Are you able to steer them in that direction?

Step 3

Offset their usage

  • If not, and if it’s one of those days where they’re over their limits and playing a trash game, see Step 1 (again), but make yourself a promise: I will do something positive with my child later today or later this week.
  • In fact, whether they’re over their limits or not, pay forwards, make that promise anyway and spend that time together – even if it’s 15 minutes setting them up to play in a more positive way – the connection you make at that point means everything to them, no matter how fleeting.
  • ‘Life’ often seems to get in the way of quality family time. To ensure we allow ourselves these moments together we either need to integrate them habitually, or actively manage how we introduce them. Goal setting as a family is one way to do this, as is leading by example.
  • Show them that other activities are good too. Show them, by example, a balance. After all, they will model themselves on how you behave. They may see you read articles on your phone, but try sneaking in a bit of real book reading. They may see you play video games one afternoon, but go for a hike the next day. Show them balance and integrate both aspects, naturally and healthily.
Children making paper crafts at a table

MID to LONG TERM

Step 4

Decide how you want to spend your time together as a family

  • Make the time to sit down and discuss what you want from life and how you want to live it.
  • Be clear about the things you want to achieve and how you will go about doing these things together.
  • When it comes to screen-time, be clear that it is only one of many activities that can be enjoyed throughout a given day. Explain your values and beliefs regarding it’s usage, the downsides attached to over exposure, and also how it can be a positive experience for everyone when used correctly.
  • Nobody likes seemingly arbitrary rules thrust upon them, a state of law that didn’t exist before, for a purpose unknown. Involve your children in the process of defining how and when it’s acceptable – their buy-in will make all the difference.
  • Going forwards, they should play an active role in making sure that their screen time is moderated – and they can only do this if they understand why it should be.
  • The aim here is two-fold – to set an ambition of where you would like to be, and to lay the foundation of agreed behaviours that will help you get there as a family.

Step 5

Form positive habits

  • You’re not looking to change the world in a day. To create a habit, you need to embed something within the pattern of your life – to make it almost reflexive in action. 
  • For this to happen, any changes to be made should be clear, simple and easy to understand. Above all, set the stage for their implementation – give yourself the best chance you can at achieving them.
  • As much as you can, stick by the guidelines you’ve set together. You’ll break them and there will always be exceptions, but if you slip too badly, look to off-set somewhere else. Whatever you do, keep on trying to apply the change that you agreed to.
  • And if you keep slipping, ask yourself why? Maybe you’re trying to tackle too much in one go.
  • You may need to trim back to the core points that are really important to you as a family and focus on tackling these to start with.
  • And know that returns will be incremental at first, that the effort comes in making the initial changes, in getting the ball rolling, but that after a while it really will become far easier and quite literally as habitual as brushing your teeth.
Father and child on a bike

Step 6

Give them the tools to make a difference

  • Introduce your children to adventure, in every form that’s accessible to you. Let them embrace it. Give them what they need to explore, discover, create, on their own and together as a family.
  • This step can happen at any point in the process. In fact, the earlier you start down this road the better, as it will make the other steps easier.

Build the fire

  • Introduce them to the mindset of adventure – that it can be found anywhere and anyhow, that:
  • adventure lies literally on your doorstep, just waiting for you to take a step outside;
  • everyday items we take for granted can be used to take you on incredible journeys;
  • the simple act of opening a book can open a doorway to people and places you never imagined were possible;
  • it’s all down to the view we take of the world around us.

Spark the fire

  • Get involved with the basics. Set them up on how to start their adventures. Whether it’s papier-mâché space helmets, building bivouacs and sofa camps, or simply reading your favourite bedtime story – use this point to connect with your children and teach them what you know.
  • If you have the time to take a family day-trip to the park or woods, then great. If not, take half an hour to introduce them to something simple such as drawing a treasure map or going on a scavenger hunt round the garden.
  • Then step back and let them crack on.

Fuel the fire

  • Once the fire is going it doesn’t need constant maintenance, but it does need re-fuelling every now and then to keep them growing.
  • Feed them with books and stories. Introduce them to new crafts and activities. Take them to new places and meet new people. Teach them what you can and reach out to other sources where you can’t.
  • Above all continue to make the time to connect with them, no matter how briefly, and encourage a view of the world that challenges their pre-conceptions.

Now the above framework is all well and good, but it will take time and effort from all involved. For some it will go relatively smoothly, for others it will be a far tougher path to tread…

If you’re struggling getting started down this road, it may be you need to focus on the short term and gather a little momentum first.

With that in mind we’ve put together a series of bite-size ‘life hacks’ designed to help get the ball rolling. Then once you’ve started to see some small changes, you can come back to the bigger picture.

Good luck in your endeavours and let us know how you get on.

The Epic Adventures Team!

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