A guide to recognising the early symptoms of video game addiction in young children and some practical steps you can take to begin managing it.
- How you want to use it as a family?
- What are the good things that can come from it?
- How would you prefer to spend time connecting with your children?
The answers to these questions will start to define the path you take, not only in balancing your children’s screen-time but in how you grow together as a family.
We’ve tackled this wider view in our Practical Guide to Limiting Screen-time – but for the moment, let’s take a look at how we can start to make small changes immediately.
Below are a series of tips or ‘hacks’ that we’ve put together to help get you started on that journey and build a bit of momentum before you tackle the bigger picture.
Share screen time
Sacrifice your own screen time
Ok, this one’s a toughie, but it’s super effective. If you’re trying to tell your child that they need to get off their phone and eat dinner, and you’re sitting there glued to your emails, it’s not going to be a very effective conversation. Children model themselves on their parent’s behaviours. Try and limit how much you use your devices in front of your kids. Even better, let them see you pick up a book every now and then. Giving you a chance for some peace and quiet whilst increasing the likelihood of your kids actually finishing their dinner.
Sometimes the ins-and-outs of what a bunch of 7 year olds were discussing in the playground earlier today really isn’t a thing that feels like it should take up much of your brain space. But to your child it’s everything. Use any excuse, any fleeting moment you have to chat to your kids. Do it. Because it’s one more connection point you didn’t have.
As a wise person on the internet once said, “If you don’t make time to discuss the small things with your children now, why should they come to you when they’re older and have much bigger stuff on their mind”.
Roses, Thorns and Buds
- A Thorn – Something rubbish that happened
- A Rose – A highlight of their day
- A Bud – Something they’re looking forward to.
Start with the thorn, then move onto the rose and then the bud. Don’t forget to take part yourself and before you know it you’ll be sharing insights left right and center. Just be wary of always trying to fix the ‘thorns’, as a particularly shy child may stop bothering to share the pricklier parts of their day.
Pick a screen free day
TV room takeover!
- Hide the remotes
- Get a messy mat and crafting materials at the ready
- Rack up some board games and puzzles on the side tables
- A stack of comics perchance?
- Maybe even a pack of cards…
Use an egg-timer
Ever shouted ‘This is your last 10 minutes!’ and then forgotten your kids were on their tablets for another 30 mins? Maybe?… 😉 Get them to take responsibility for the time they spend, it will help them self-regulate and gives them power over their own actions.
Find an egg-timer with decent size increments (half hour or an hour), and get them to use this to monitor their own time. It’s i) an alternate (non-digital) visual way of measuring how long they have left, without getting bogged down in ‘X’ amount of minutes, ii) easy to pause if random tasks need to be done halfway through, and iii) it’s incontrovertible when their time is up.
Turn off the television when no one’s watching it
Establish screen-free periods
A new month, a new habit
Choose your tools wisely
Morning to-do list
Get a wipe-board or pen and paper and make it part of your morning ritual to plan out all the cool (and practical) stuff that you and your kids are going to do that day. Yes it’s an effort, but that moment of reflection together will set the bar for the day. Chores and homework are transparent and accounted for and you’ll be in control of whether their spare time is spent in front of a screen or not. And if it’s one of those days where you know you’re going to have to rely on the third parent, at least you’re cognisant of the fact and can look to offset it later that week.
Too much to do on a daily basis? Spend 20 mins every Saturday morning planning your weekly adventures together.
One more minute!
Digital zero dawn
Time to go cold turkey. This route is pretty extreme, and it’s based on the premise that you’re in too deep already and digital usage is constantly getting out of hand. But it can be extremely effective if you’re able to ride it out. We’re not saying never use a screen again, but pick a point where you can call a complete ban on screen-time for a substantial period (dependent on your family’s habits, tolerances and existing usage level).
You’ll also need to limit your own usage, or at least shield it from your child’s eyes. The early stages will be hellish, prepare for tantrums and defiance, but after a while you’ll all adjust. And as your child starts to adapt to life without a screen, the benefits will come in spades. It’s then up to you how you integrate it back in to your lifestyles. But this time, you’re in control.
Try and have meal times together
This sounds pretty obvious but your kids are not going to be able to watch TV or play video games if they’re taking part in things in the real world. Make it easy for them to untether from their digital umbilical – keep a ready supply of activity ideas, reading materials and inspiration to hand – and spend what time you can spare in getting them up and running.
Just be wary – if you don’t have this kind of thing stockpiled, you’ll run the risk of drifting back to the digital default. But remember, it can be as simple as getting them to help you cook dinner or taking a walk down the park together – it doesn’t need to be an extravagant exercise.
“The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.”
– Erik H. Erikson
And as a final note, a pitfall to avoid if you can...
There are many approaches that advocate using screen-time as a reward for good behaviour. As parents we’ve done this ourselves, it’s incredibly easy to say, ‘Get your homework and chores done and then you can watch some TV/play on your console’ – or the classic, ‘Right, keep up that attitude and there’s no more screen-time for you today!’. But we’ve found it returns only limited, short-term benefits that, over time, tend to create quite undesirable patterns of behaviour.
Think of it this way:
- If you create a reward and punishment system with screen time as your leverage point, you’re automatically elevating it to the highest echelon of reward status, turning it by default into their one true goal. At that point, nothing else will be able to compare. Not great if what you want them to do is spend more time reading, making or jumping about outside.
- Once you’re in a system like this, your relationship becomes transactional. Over time, market forces will naturally apply, with bartering and escalation becoming the norm.
- “Help me tidy your room / pick up your clothes / load the dishwasher with your breakfast plates – the faster we do this, the more time I’ll be able to spend with you later doing X”
We’ve been there (and still are on some days), and it’s hard to break the cycle once bad habits are embedded, but the earlier you start addressing them, the easier it will get. You don’t need to use all these tips and tricks but hopefully the odd one will give you the traction you need to get the ball rolling in the right direction, or even, fine-tune an already solid foundation.
As mentioned at the start of this article, if you’d like to make some fundamental changes around how you use digital within your family, take a look at our Practical Guide to Limiting Screen-time, where we give you a 6-Point Framework and Activation Plan to help get you started.
Good luck and let us know how you get on.
The Epic Adventures Team!