Weaning from Electronic Entertainment

Dr. Corinne Masur

The vaccine is here, our new President is compiling guidelines for school re-openings, spring is coming and parents are thinking: “How are we going to get our children off their devices???”
Yes, it is true.  Life outside the house is going to resume.  We don’t know when exactly and we don’t know how exactly, but we can all see that it is going to start happening over the next several months and into the summer.
But children have also been using their devices more than ever.  Parents have found it life saving to allow more movie and video game and YouTube time.  Especially parents who work.
Kids have found that they can amuse themselves during the long periods of enforced home time if they have a device at the ready and they can also socialize with friends via these same devices.
Parents who always said they would not give their child a smartphone before age (fill in your number) did so earlier than expected.  Parents who had strict rules about screen time relaxed them.  Some parents (read: most parents) even encouraged children to watch while they worked, cleaned the house, made meals, talked to a partner or a friend or took a minute for themselves.
So HOW do parents get kids away from these devices once we can go out more, do more, see more people (even if still utilizing some safety protocols)?
I have one main suggestion.  It will not be easy.  You may say you don’t have the energy or the time or the mental strength.  But I truly think it is the best way:
Do NOT lecture, threaten or cajole.  Instead, plan things that do not require a screen.  Do not say that is why you are planning these activities or you will get heavy pushback, I guarantee you.  But plan a hike, a walk by the river, a race, a bike ride, a baking contest, a bread making session, an art project then an art show (at home).  If you didn’t do Zoom sessions before, do them now – schedule a family Zoom with relatives you haven’t been able to see.
Tell your kids that to get ready to go back to school it’s time to get used to doing more things, to get in shape physically, to go outside the house more.  
Going back into spaces outside the home may actually cause some initial anxiety – among children AND adults.  Seeing more than one or two people at a time may feel overwhelming at first.
So prepare by renewing your efforts to set up some Zoom play dates and some Zoom dinners with family friends.  Set a time limit that your children must participate depending on their age.  For small children 2 – 4, five to fifteen minutes may be all they can manage.  For 5 – 10 year olds, tell them they must stay on for 10 – 20 minutes, depending on their ability. And for teens, at least 15 – 20 minutes can be the minimum.
We ALL need to start getting used to seeing people and going out and we ALL need to get off our devices.  Set a good example for your children.  When you spend time with them taking a walk or a hike or a bike ride or playing a game, turn OFF your phone and do not check it. We adults need to wean ourselves from constant device use as well!!!!

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