As a society, we’re constantly attached to our smartphones, laptops, and tablets throughout the day, whether it’s a matter of productivity, digital media consumption, entertainment, or even socializing.
The issue is even worse for young children, who now become tech-savvy at a very young age. They spend more time in front of screens than any previous generation.
In fact, roughly 70% of parents believe their child spends too much time glued to the screen, and a new digital parenting movement has emerged to slow the trend of internet addiction and too many hours of screen time.
We know that breaking a child’s screen addiction isn’t easy. There isn’t a single quick fix to get them unhooked from different types of media after years of repeating the same ingrained habits in everyday life.
Still, we’re here to help by presenting a series of science-backed tips to help your young person rely less on screens and become re-engaged in the real world around them. Stay tuned because these tips will help any parent in the digital age move forward.
Understanding Screen Addiction
Before we offer some practical tips for conquering your child’s screen use, let’s talk more about the issue itself and set the record straight.
It’s Not Your Fault
First things first: the fact that your child spends too much time on screens is not a sign of your shortcomings as a parent or human being or a sign of neglect in any regard.
Many of the apps we use today (especially video games and other online games) are designed to be as addicting as possible, keeping us locked in for hours.
Many aspects of our childrens’ lives are entrenched in the digital world, whether it’s doing schoolwork, engaging with friends on Instagram or Facebook, or simply relaxing and watching Netflix.
Don’t be too critical of yourself when assessing the cause of your child’s screen habit – it happens to the best.
It Impacts Everyone
Screen addiction is a relatable issue for us all, so have some empathy when broaching the subject with your young kids. We have all spent too many hours on screens in these past few years, and it has simply become baked into our culture.
Consider your own relationship with technology before you jump into a conversation with your kids and understand how digital dependence can impact everyone in the family. This includes your older children, tween, teen, or toddler.
It Will Take Time
Snapping a screen addiction in real life is not like swatting a fly or taking out the trash. It’s more like healing a cut or scrape or getting over a cold. It’s not going to happen in the blink of an eye, no matter what guidelines or recommendations you follow.
Patience is the key virtue when working through a screen addiction with your family. So, strap in for a long road ahead and be ready to bounce back from setbacks when they inevitably happen.
12 Tips To Try Now
Now that we understand screen addiction a bit more clearly, we can walk through our list of tips to help you navigate the challenge ahead.
1. Set an Example
You are the parent, and you call the shots. But as you know, actions speak far louder than words, especially when raising kids.
That’s why you can’t expect your children to break free from screen addiction if you’re constantly glued to your phone or computer 24/7.
This is a difficult conundrum for many parents who need tech to work and pay bills, but we guarantee there is plenty of time in the day for you to step away from the screens and connect with your children in a genuine way. Making a family media plan with screen time limits for everyone involved can be helpful.
2. Communication Keys
To address the issue of screen addiction at the root, you need to call it out by name. Having this conversation is one of the toughest steps, but it’s a major relief to get it out of the way.
Try framing it in a way that you and your kids are all trying to cut back on screen time so that they feel like it’s a group effort.
This also shows that you’re accountable and not harshly punishing them.
3. Curate Content
Screens are just an access point for content, whether videos and images on the internet or games and social media applications.
While there is a lot of junk content out there (unfortunately, the more addicting kind), plenty of resources are beneficial and don’t create bad impulsive habits.
Find apps and websites that your kids enjoy but also have an informative or educational aspect. They will be happier to step away from screens and live a more balanced life.
4. Explore Other Activities
It’s easier said than done, but breaking screen addiction can really only be accomplished by replacing screens with engaging, real-world activities or gadgets.
Start by getting out of the house when possible and encourage physical activity and a new hobby. Sports, hikes, swimming, arts and crafts – these are all better options than sitting indoors, silently staring at screens or on video chat and pushing buttons.
5. Create Incentives
Kids respond well to incentives if they’re compelling enough. Maybe you can offer a $5 allowance for staying off video games for a week or an extra bonus for avoiding social media.
However, this may have the opposite effect of overvaluing screen time, so be careful when working with these types of incentives.
A better idea may be to set longer-term goals and incentivize them to change their behavior over time rather than in the span of a few days or weeks.
6. Set Parameters
If you’ve been doing it right, your words as a parent carry weight. Sometimes it’s effective to simply say “enough” and take away those devices when it's time for bed or homework.
This requires an attitude that some parents just don’t have, but a bit of tough love can go a long way and be very effective.
7. Block Certain Websites and Apps
You likely keep a mental list of the websites and apps that are “no-go” for your kids. Identify them one by one and block them with a range of different tools.
Browsers like Chrome have decent content filters, and some plug-ins can do the trick as well. The problem is that these are somewhat easy to work around for savvy kids.
More effective is a parental controls router with built-in resources to block websites and entire categories of content at the network level. Use these powerful tools and avoid any issues down the road.
8. Allow for Boredom
Boredom is a natural part of growing up, and many psychologists say it’s even good for nurturing intelligence and imagination.
Don’t let your kids’ natural development be harmed by screen time. It’s okay for them to be bored and figure out a healthy, screen-free way to occupy themselves.
9. Address All Devices
These days, kids have internet access via smart TVs, video game consoles, phones, tablets, and more. It’s truly device overload!
Of course, not every device has built-in parental controls, so a router-level approach is by far the best option you have as a parent.
Remember, kids are smart with tech and know the workarounds, so set controls at the network level to keep things air-tight.
10. Cut Wi-Fi if Necessary
At certain times of day, it’s easier for you to just disconnect internet access for your kids. Seems harsh? It actually simplifies things and sets a good precedent for your policies as a parent.
The best parental controls routers allow you to switch Wi-Fi access on and off for particular users during certain blocks of the day. Examples of these blocks of time can be dinner time, homework time, or family board game night.
11. Stay in Control
Your kids will beg, they’ll throw temper tantrums, they’ll pull every trick in the book to get you to bend the rules and allow them to spend just another hour online.
You need to keep an iron will and stay in control no matter what because the moment you back down, kids will just continue to push the boundaries further.
12. Have a Tailored Plan
Every digital parenting game plan will look slightly different depending on the number of kids, the type of devices, weekly schedules, and other variables with work and life.
Find a flexible and comprehensive parental controls system that can be configured to your exact needs as a parent, so you can operate from one central app and have complete visibility over the network at all times.
Gain Victory Over Screen Addiction
You can conquer screen addiction with the right mindset and strong parental controls software.
Start with these tips and tweak your strategy accordingly, with a reliable set of parental controls to uphold your policies along the way.
Is Your Child Addicted to Screens? | Psychology Today
Parenting Kids in the Age of Screens, Social Media and Digital Devices | Pew Research
Rewards | Consequences | Essentials | Parenting Information | CDC