Why You Need to Give Up Fighting Your Kids Over Screen Time

Courtney Burry

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Let’s face it-kids and teens spend an incredible amount of time online these days. According to a recent study by Common Sense Media, teens spend an average of almost 8 hours on their phones, and tweens aged 8 to 12 spend just under 5 hours online. But kids aren’t the only ones with their noses in their laptops and phones. A recent survey from Rescue Time found that parents also spend just over 3 hours a day scrolling through their phones.

Why is this important? Parents (despite our hours online) tend to spend a lot of time trying to limit our kids' screen time. I know we did. And it just doesn’t work.

Many years ago, we tried Disney Circle to control what our kids saw and how long they were online. This worked for all of one week. My kids, being little tween-age deviants, found several workarounds almost immediately. All they had to do was go to YouTube, where they could find a whole slew of videos showing how to disable and bypass this device.

Next, we tried blocking access through our router using Family Shield. Surprise, surprise — there are also several hacks that kids figure out to get around these. My kids quickly learned how to spoof their MAC address to bypass this control. We also tried Apple Screen Time-only to have a barrage of endless requests from our kids for extensions. Like I said, little deviants.

Time for a New Approach

Fighting screen-time has always felt like an uphill battle in our house. So, we decided that it was time to give up. Yes, that’s right, we decided that it was time to throw in the towel and take a completely different approach.

Now we have a new set of ground-rules, with the onus falling on our kids instead of us or the technology. You may be thinking, well, kids don’t really have any self-control-so is this really a wise decision?

I would argue that if your kids are over the age of 12, this is a perfectly sound decision. Here is why. We know that self-control is learned and not innate. It is modeled, not acquired. According to researchers, children start to develop self-control at the age of 4. No one is born with self-control. Rather it is something we all learn over time.

Now given this fact, if parents try to teach self-control by relying on rewards or by taking things away, then we ultimately inhibit the ability of our children and teens to develop the critical piece of control they need the most — namely, the ability to control themselves. This is why it is called “self-control” and not “parent-driven control.”

Let me give you an example. Friends of ours had a son who I will call Sam (not his real name). They coddled him, restricted his screen time, and would badger him to get his assignments done on time. Sam graduated from high school, and because he was a smart kid, he managed to get into UC Irvine. Unfortunately, after one year of studying at the college, Sam was expelled because he couldn’t manage to get his assignments in or get the grades needed to pass his courses. Sam had no self-control because his parents had rightly or wrongly taken that control away from him during his high school years.

If this sounds familiar, you are in good company. We all want the best for our kids. Sometimes, it is important to take a step back and ask ourselves if we help or hurt our kid’s chances of learning self-control.

In our case, we decided that we needed a different approach to regulate screen time. And this had to come from teaching our kids to take responsibility for controlling and prioritizing their own usage. It could and should no longer come from us.

How This Works

Teaching your kids self-control isn’t easy. It takes time. But it also sets them up for life once they leave home. Here are three quick tips to help your kids become more self-aware and gain more self-control.

Put them in charge of their success.

If we want our children and teens to learn self-moderation and control, we need to put them in charge of their success. What do kids need to be successful in their lives? Well, school, for starters.

In our house, our kids need to maintain a certain GPA. If their GPA falls below a certain threshold, they need to relinquish their devices until the following semester. This was their decision, not ours. They set the ground rules, and they are responsible for adhering to them. We don’t badger them. We praise them when they do well. But they keep track of their work, and they modify their extra-curricular activities, including their screen time, accordingly.

Since doing this, my son has become an “A” student. Last year, before doing this, he was a “B” student at best. He still sits in front of his computer daily playing games with his friends, but now he is running the show, and every day he is learning valuable lessons about how to drive his own success.

Teach them time management

Oftentimes teens and kids lose track of time. We all do. We get so immersed in what we are doing that we have lost half a day before we know it. And when kids are online, losing track of time is commonplace.

So, it is incredibly important to teach kids time management. Both of my kids keep a calendar. They love to do things out of habit (we all do), and they have penciled in their routine activities. They also use the alarm on their phone throughout the day as a reminder to change things up. My son, for example, takes a bike ride or goes outside every day at 3 pm. My daughter goes for a run at 5 pm. This is their schedule, not mine. They developed it on their own, down to when they want to eat lunch, do their homework, and be online.

Setting this schedule up helped them understand the importance of time management. It also gave them control over their schedules. Are there days where my son’s schedule seems to be incomplete disarray? Absolutely. But he is slowly getting there, and I couldn’t ask for more.

Provide them with the ability to get balance in their lives

While we try to give our kids more reign to control their day-to-day lives, it is equally important to expose them to new and exciting activities and opportunities. People don’t know what they don’t know. And kids are no different.

One of the best things we can do as parents to help kids appreciate self-control is to do other things. In my case, my daughter loves volleyball. So helping her join a club of her choosing ensures that she has an outlet off her phone and laptop to provide the balance she needs.

In the End

Relinquishing control of screen time in our house did not come naturally. It transpired following a lot of heated battles. But giving in has meant giving our kids something more — the ability to learn self-control and self-discipline. And this has been invaluable. So, give it a try. Go ahead and throw in the towel. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

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I am a mom, a marketer and a writer. I use humor and satire in my writing and love to write about parenting, travel, business, the environment, feminism, music and politics. So, basically everything.

Los Gatos, CA
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