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Why Can't I Have Screen Time? You're Always on YOUR Computer!

As we continue to work and learn from home, many parents are facing this question from their children: “Why can’t I have screen time? You’re always on your computer!” 

Until five months ago, parents worked while their children were in school and out of the house. Not anymore. Our children are surprised to see how much time we spend on our screens during the workday. They can’t see the logic of us telling them to log off and go play, while we continue online hour after hour. Parents are worried about creating an atmosphere of hypocrisy, but also need to get their work done. Here’s what to do:

Get Your Work Done

I hear of parents trying to hide their computer or phone usage, even when they’re online to get work done. Don’t! You already have too much stress - let’s not add hiding your screen time to the list.  

The reality is that much of what we need to do as adults and parents revolve around screens - more so every day. This is the reality of life in the 21st century.  Screens will be an unavoidable and deeply integrated part of your children’s adult lives too. Instead of hiding, let’s use this as an opportunity to teach your child about this reality, and how to manage it. 

Differentiate Entertainment from Work Screen Time

When your child asks why you get to stay online when they need to get off, It can be useful to show or tell them exactly what you are doing online. They tend to imagine that we are online doing what they want to do online - playing games, texting friends, looking up some cool youtube video. Ha! Not generally so! Tell them:

“As an adult, there are so many things I do on my phone. I’m rarely doing something for entertainment, though it may be hard to tell the difference from looking at me. On my phone, I work, organize your education and social life, get all the things we need for the house, pay all our bills, etc. This type of screen time is different from getting on to play games, text with friends, and watch videos or shows.”

When your child begins to understand that you’re usually doing boring but necessary adult things on your phone, they will begin to complain less about hypocrisy.  

Differentiate Children & Adult Screen Time

There are many areas of life where children and adults have different rules. The same is true for screen time. Adults have the fully developed brain necessary to manage screen time effectively and children do not. This is important for your child to understand. Here’s an example of what you can tell your child to help them understand, 

“As an adult, my brain is fully developed so I’m able to understand and manage the tricky aspects of screens. Children’s brains are still developing and some types of screen time may affect this development. Also, as you are still developing, you are learning how to deal with screen time. That’s why for now I need to tell you when to get on and off, when to take breaks, and when you have had too much. Over time, I will teach you to do this and you can balance and manage your own screen time.”

Your child may not like this distinction. But, if you offer a clear explanation, over time they will accept it and badger you less about being able to use screens as freely as you do. 

Show Them How You Manage Screen Time

This new reality of working in front of our children offers a unique opportunity to show them how you deal with the tricky aspects of life behind a screen. This is valuable information for them so don’t miss the opportunity! Show them how you stay focused on work tasks and avoid clicking on every alert that comes through.  Explain to them how you know when you need a break from your screen (when your neck hurts? when your eyes are blurry? between every meeting?) and see if they can begin to identify their own physical and emotional cues for breaktime.  

You can even share your screen time struggles - how it can be difficult for you to get off social media, how you sometimes find yourself down a YouTube rabbit hole when you should be finishing a project. This will help them feel normal and less judged for their screen time struggles. Describe the strategies you use to manage these struggles (or at least try to use). Have a good laugh together! Screen time can hook us all! 

Family Screen-Free Time

It is more important than ever to create and honor family screen-free times. These times accomplish two important things:

  • By putting down our phone for meals, family outings, or even just a 10-minute break during a busy day, we model balance for our children. They see us resist the temptation to constantly check our phones and we show them this is doable (though often hard!). 
  • Screen-free times allow us to connect with our children with our full attention - no distractions. Connection is more important than ever as our children are also experiencing stress under these current circumstances and need to know we are tuned into their needs. Connection allows us to have some fun, share some laughs, have a tickle session, or bake some cookies together. Our children will be less resentful of our constant screen time when they feel they also have our attention at predictable times throughout the day.

Children are perceptive and sensitive to what’s “fair” and “unfair”. When they see you doing the thing that you’re asking them not to do, it elicits strong feelings of inequity. This is where some of the struggles occur over screen time - a lack of connectedness, you versus your child. By letting your child in on why and how you are using screen time and why it’s different for adults versus children, they start to understand that you’re not just being mean or hypocritical. Connecting will help you and your child navigate screen time as a team. During this pandemic, we could all use more connection.

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.

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