Parents fret about their kids spending too much time with digital devices, but many don’t realize that their efforts to limit screen time can backfire. Experts have reversed earlier guidelines about screen time, and recent research suggests that strict time-based rules can be harmful.
Clocking screen time is not only difficult, but can cause negative family dynamics. Here are five ways that time-based rules can backfire, and how parents can approach things differently.
Your Kids Resent You
Screen time rules are a source of tension. Some kids may be just fine with time limits on their screens, but we expect most kids resent them. Parents have described to me how their kids respond with anger and even violence. Kids know their parents are just as tied to their digital devices as they are. As kids enter their tween and teen years, parents are an easy target for resentment, especially when enforcing rules that seem hypocritical.
“You shouldn’t cave just because your kids hate your rules. But there are more reasons you should rethink time-based rules.”
Kids Don’t Learn Self-Control
Kids are growing up with more and more access to media and technology at earlier ages, and sooner rather than later, they need to make wise media choices themselves. Just as with food, parents need to be in control in the wee years. But when kids start going to school and hanging out with friends, they need to be equipped with their own internal compass.
Psychology Today notes that screen time rules can inhibit kids’ ability to “self-regulate,” which is another way of saying that they aren’t learning to make their own choices about media. The longer parents play time cop, the longer it takes for kids to learn self-control.
Screen Time Is Less Productive
We learned our lesson about screen time rules one day when we got Irritated at our nephew’s excessive YouTube viewing, we started clocking our screen time for the first time. We learned to spend his limited screen time on the most insane videos he could find. When we suggested he go online to work on a project or do research, he would innocently remind us that was out of screen time.
Time-based rules don’t take into account the quality or content of the time on screen. Activities like online research, coding, and digital creation take a tremendous amount of time and focus. Time-based rules are too blunt an instrument in an era when screens are how kids access creative tools, knowledge, and social connection.
Less Together Time
When parents take the role of time cop, they are less likely to be engaged in shared online activities with their kids. Parents put themselves in the position of saying no to media rather than developing shared digital interests.