The scene is set… Screen-time has snuck up from a little bit, to a much-too-much sort of situation. Maybe it’s been over holidays or because of a particularly busy period in family life. The decision is made to pare back on screen-time and while the body is willing, the parental spirit is weary. Yes, you look ahead into that well-trodden tunnel of parenting doom; the arguments, the ‘it’s not fair’s’, the, ‘but everyone else is allowed,’ and know that this is probably going to join the long, long list of parenting battles.

This one is worth the time and effort though, so let’s get going with some ways to tame-the-screen-keen-tween. (Dr Seuss – eat your heart out!)

Ripping the bandaid off

Shudder. Cold turkey is probably the toughest way to introduce a new practice. Painful but often the shortest path to change. Is it time to sit down in a calm time with your tween and say that there’s been too much screen-time and that times are changing?

If you have the tween able to cope with this sort of conversation in a constructive way, it’s a good idea to get it started. Top of mind should be your tween’s developing need to feel independent and able to contribute to decision-making. This is a good step towards being a competent adult, even though it takes a bit more time to wallow through the quasi-negotiation stage.

Opening this conversation with the feeling that you’re moving towards collective decision-making and everyone’s thoughts being valued helps. Here’s a conversation checklist to steer the discussion:

  • Say what you’ve noticed and ask your tween if they’ve noticed the same. Take a curious attitude.
  • Acknowledge the reasons why this has happened as well as the reasons that it needs to change. It’s good to phrase this like you both know that the reality is that it’s time for change.
  • Ask what your tween’s thoughts are on the situation, and what they think change could look like. This is where the negotiating begins.
  • Share your thoughts on what a suitable solution could be. Aim high so that you look heroic when you settle on a more moderate position – the one you wanted from the start.
  • Agree to the changes and the start date. Give it a couple of days to start the new screen-time access rules so that your tween has time to get used to it. If you can’t agree, agree on the next time that you can talk about it calmly – and state that the next time you will have to make a decision together or that you’re going to make it on your own.
  • Write the decision down as a helpful reminder and put it somewhere on display – like the fridge door because every tween spends most of their time hanging out at the fridge door, bemoaning the state of ‘we’ve got no food’ despite the fruit bowl being full. If possible, ask your tween to write their own reminder note so that when the post-agreement argy-bargy begins, you can point to that agreement and say, “But those are your words in your writing. Let’s try and stick to that good decision you made.”

The slowly-slowly approach

Not every child is wired for rapid-fire change. Not every parent is wired that way too – able to make the decision and hold the line until the angst of now fades into acceptance. So, there is another way to modify screen-time. Gently, gently, slowly, slowly. Giving yourself and your tween a 4 week window to cut back can work. Start at the end – what’s acceptable to both of you as weekday and weekend screen time? Now, what are the incremental steps to get there that you can both agree on so that by the time you round out week 4, time is reduced, and everyone is happy?

This is a good ultimatum situation (yes, I really am going there!) You make and write down your agreement with the proviso that should any of that time end up in an argument, the default position is that the end of week 4 screen-time limits kick in immediately. You’re saying to your tween, “We can work this out together and both compromise to get what we want, and we’re both responsible for the decisions that we make along the way – and their agreed consequences.”

This approach takes a bit more work as you have to map out each week and then remember where you’re at. It is less confrontational though and can feel more respectful of the needs of the child who struggles to cope with change.

Make a stand and stick to it

Helping your tween to manage their screen-time and to take some responsibility for that is an essential part of growing up in the digital-age. Being a slave to the bings and bongs of the little device at the end of your finger-tips is no good for anyone’s health or wellbeing.

Yes, it’s going to mean some moments where your tween isn’t happy with you – that’s all part of the great parenting adventure. The tween years are so very formative and habit-setting that drawing a line and then holding it when it comes to screen-time flows over into all the other areas of tween-wrangling too. Good luck! Stay strong!

DiGii Social is a carefully designed digital-life training platform just for tweens. It provides the opportunity to practise skills towards mastery before spending too much time on other social media platforms. DiGii Social is easy to use and available as a school subscription with a parent education channel included.

Useful links:

Office of the eSafety Commissioner https://www.esafety.gov.au/

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