Achieving a ‘work-screen’ balance in family life

Q   My children seem to be addicted to their electronic devices, especially their iPads, and so getting them to do anything around the house is so difficult. As much as this frustrates me, I accept that I have allowed this to happen and now really want to find ways to reduce their device time. Any ideas?

A   I hear you loud and clear! I think all parents are guilty of this, myself included! Electronic devices truly are an easy entertainment option for kids and they can educate them too. Our children have so much access to the world through their devices and that is not always a bad thing. But, like many things, in moderation is good; too much can become a problem.

Due to their obvious attachment to their iPads, you now have “currency” and motivation which can be used to inspire some changes. Many parents are inclined to take away their children’s devices as a way of punishment but it would be better to think of their iPads as rewards instead.

You mentioned that you are having difficulty getting them to do anything around the house due to their iPad addictions. I’m going to suggest some ideas which may cause short term pain, but hopefully, long term gain.

Before you talk to your children about a change in their iPad usage, write a list of all of the things you “wish” they did more of or would start to do. Be realistic and consider their ages when coming up with this list. For example, for a pre-teen, your list might look something like this:

  • Feed the dog every morning

  • Empty the dishwasher every afternoon

  • Stack the dirty dishes into the dishwasher

  • Wash the car once per week

  • Put all dirty clothes in the washing basket.

The above are examples of particular chores you might want them to do. But now think about all of the healthy activities they could be engaging in if they weren’t spending so much time on their iPads. How important is a healthy lifestyle to your family? You might include some of the following activities:

  • Go for a short bike ride

  • Jump on the trampoline

  • Water the grass/garden

  • Play a board game with your brother/sister

  • Eat a piece of fruit or other healthy snack such as chopped vegetables.

So instead of the kids feeling they are in trouble for using their iPads, you are actually rewarding them for desirable behaviours, expanding their idea of entertainment and increasing their sense of reward and achievement.

Now you can let your children know you’ll be introducing some new rules regarding screen time on their devices. They are welcome to use their iPads once they have completed particular tasks or chores around the house. You might set daily tasks or weekly tasks connected to time spent on their iPads. Keep the iPads in a location only you know about and give them to the kids once they have completed their tasks. Create a daily visual checklist if that helps as a reminder. When you first introduce this new idea, you can expect to be challenged but remember to be consistent, despite how hard it is at first. And remember also to be kind and not use this reward system as a way to continue to add chores to their lists! They are still kids. Stay strong and I’m sure it will be worth the effort.

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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