But mum… “just 5 more minutes”… “one more show”… I” have nearly finished”… I” haven’t seen this episode”… “I just have to”…I know, I know… if you her that ONE MORE TIME you just might scream!
I am hearing you loud and clear Mumma… you are not alone! It is hard enough to keep them off the God Damn screen when life is normal let alone during Social Isolation. What with learning online, trying to stay connected with friends via a screen, keeping them entertained so they stop arguing by using the screen as the mediator… does it ever end? I cant help but feel that the seemingly flat rectangular piece of hardware is the only one who is going to win the argument you are about to have once you ask them to… dah dah dahhhhh…. GO OUTSIDE and live in the REAL WORLD! But wait a minute… they cant really do that right now… Thanks RONA!
So what the hell are well supposed to do? I was running out of ideas, and trust me I have had plenty of them. They have gone full circle over the past month. No screens unless its for school work or for an hour before dinner (militant and hard work) , time managed inside/ outside ratio for the day ( I thought surely we can even the score each day – but then it rained…), tick the boxes before you get screen time ( you know the one, do your chores, do something helpful, creative, productive first – the novelty wore off and I had to keep coming up with ideas!), then all the way to I don’t care and I finally signed up for NETFLIX … yes I know, as my brother in Lock down New York said… “WTF- you DON’T have NETFLIX!”… My theory was we didn’t need any more TV to watch, but all we were really doing was watching crap that we didn’t enjoy, so my husband would go out a buy a DVD – old school I know- and this really only filled up our TV cabinet with a reason to argue every time we had to make a movie choice. So, I folded and we now are now on the NETFLIX bandwagon… and the arguments still exist! It’s really wearing me down let me tell you!
So the reality is that our Aussie kids have far too much daily screen time, well above the 0-2 hours recommended ( age dependent) and not many of them meet the Australian guidelines for physical activity or exercise ( 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily and 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise at least 3 times each week) becomes something of a concern when our health is our utmost priority right now. Physical activity is paramount in managing mental health, boosting immunity, helping us get enough good quality sleep , improved body image and self esteem and so many other health related benefits. OK Ok… I will get ff my soap box for now but you get my gist right… the hard part is making it happen.. trust me I know, two of my own kids and I teach high school PDHPE!
Now add the pressure of screen time and the issue of keeping us all connected… Face-time, Messenger chats and video calls, House party, Zoom, Google meet, Snap Chat, Instagram and the list goes on…oh and let’s not forget the TikTok revolution stomping its feet and shaking its booty in our faces constantly… I am very wary of my kids using social media and so far I have a 13 year old and a 9 year old with no mobile phones or social media accounts, they do however have iPad’s and an xbox. If they want to chat with friends it happens via my device. My son was invited to use Discord, an online gaming communications option so he could chat with his mates, but that was squashed very quickly when my husband and Deputy Principal of the local high school told me about the issues that he has had to deal with for using that platform. ( bullying, porn exposure, the dark web etc). The amount of inappropriate activity that I see regularly in my job as a high school teacher from kids using their own accounts that their parents have no idea about is concerning. ( and Yes before you start thinking “what would she know” PDHPE departments in Australia are required to teach and cover off on cyber safety in stage 4&5 believe it or not) It drums home the need for parents to be vigilant about what their kids are using and doing online, especially in this climate where we are pushed to use online media as our main form of staying connected. Online Bullying, Child pornography and other online issues are something every parent must be educated about, and my worry is that with more online use, more of this type of thing will occur, and our kids physical and mental health is on the line
This brings us back to our original dilemma, how do we find the balance of screen time, social interaction and keeping ourselves and our kids ( and ourselves) sane and healthy in isolation?
Just like when we want anything of value we have to learn to trade in appropriate currency, in this case, our kids currency… What do I mean by that? What is valuable to our kids may be different to what we consider valuable to them, so we need to find what it is that works, what it is that is their gold bullion. We have to speak their language for any wheeling and dealing to be meaningful, and here in-lies the trick to getting your kids off the screens. Humans generally speak in common languages so why not try these on for size in your home…
Words of affirmation – words to build up your kids, uncomplicated verbal compliments that encourage their energies away from the screen, that motivate them towards their other interests hobbies or areas of growth…”I really love that picture you’re working on, I can t wait to see it finished!”…”I was really impressed that you were able to ride the whole way keeping up with your sister”
Acts of service – do something for them with their happiness in mind, actions will speak louder than your words, so the things you do for them can be linked to off screen behaviors…”while you are outside I will make your favorite dinner”… “while you were building with your Lego I have fixed that remote control car for you”
Receiving gifts – making someone feel appreciated, it is not materialistic in nature, but a gift that shows your thinking of them fondly, these gifts are associated with off screen behaviors…”I see you have been using a heap of energy while swimming with your brother today so I have grabbed some of your favorite ice-cream for dessert”…”I noticed your skate shoes had holes in them because you have been using them a lot lately so I have put those new ones you love on lay-by”…”Now we have time, lets re-paint that feature wall the color your have picked out”
Quality time – let your kids have the centre of your attention and get into their world of play, interest or choice, use this time to do the things that are important to them…”hey honey, come and we will read that book together that your been asking me too for a while now”…”Ok the weather is amazing, let’s ride up to that spot you have been telling me about and take a look together”…”hey I was going to make some afternoon tea, do you want to choose from these options and do it with me?”
Physical Touch- contact that shows your support, is fun in nature, and that reinforces your connection with them while they unobstructed by a screen…”come and have a snuggle on the outdoor lounge and check out the night sky with me”…”Let grab a blanket and go find a sunrise/set to enjoy together”… “OK Mr, its on… time to practice your tackling”…”here, let me give your shoulders a rub while you work on that artwork you started”…
If you know your kids you will also know that there is more than one of these things that they will connect with, so be prepared to try a few different tactics.
There are other options too, perhaps ones that can compliment or be complimented by their dominant currency… So why not give these a try ….
- balance their screen time between consuming and producing… let them have time where they can relax and take it in, but ensure that they send equal time producing or working towards the creation of something – think about online drawing / artwork / design options, or researching “how to..” so they can then do it…
- tally up active minutes and reward them with screen time minutes or Video chat minutes … bike ride for 30 minutes screen time for 30 minutes, shoot hoops and your point score gives you TV minutes, table tennis rally points equal screen time and the winner chooses the program.
- Tasks for TV exchange…have a list of tasks the kids can do to earn their chosen NETFLIX program or movie – folding the washing and putting it away, walking the dog, playing a board game or card game with your sibling, or create a scooter track and time yourself for the best run and the winner can choose the TV show, etc…
- Make it real!… let them watch something that they can then work on making real- “Dude perfect” is a fun and active option and is a hit in our house.
- Interactive real life games… let them connect with friends while they are being actively engaged- Celebrity head or charades via video chat with their friends, Create your own short sharp dance sequence (no need to use the Tiktok APP and here is why) to a common song and teach your friends while in a video chat together.
It is a tough gig to keep everyone in good spirits during a lockdown. Our world has suddenly changed so we need to change with it to ensure that we maintain good mental, physical and social health and wellbeing. The one thing I know as that if we don’t try, then we have already given in, and the thought of that send me more crazy than the sounds of my kids arguing!
So Mumma, I hear you loud and clear, and we got this… the Screen doesn’t have to make you Scream… just be prepared to be consistent and know you will have fails… there will be days where you just let them watch and consume, give yourself a break… saving your sanity happens one day at a time, and all we can do is keep at it, one day at a time…