The Screen Wars: How to stop it tearing your family apart

by NATALIE RINEHART
6th June 2022

IT’S A WEDNESDAY night.
You have finally finished up work in the home office.
The kids have been home from school for an hour.
You stick your head in on teen number one; he’s in front of his computer with Discord chats on one screen and a fast-moving game he’s yelling at on another.
You check on teen number two, and it’s pretty much a mirror image, except she’s laughing at Tik Tok.
Your next shift has started without you, and you already feel like you’re on the losing side.
The Screen Wars: phones, tablets, laptops, PCs playing all the games, social media, funny videos, messaging services, school requirements and work access all in one.
The war started well before COVID, but let’s face it, COVID has bought it into starker focus.
The screens that allowed us to connect became our lifeline to work, school, friends, and entertainment.
We have all become so reliant on them that we have forgotten how to function with less.
So, how can we reduce their overuse without an all-out war?
This is a question I am so often asked by the parents of young people I see.
Our need for up-to-date information, especially during the lockdowns, was intense in recent years.
There were daily press briefings on rules, numbers, and the heartbreaking toll of deaths.
Each time we picked up the screen, there was a sense of “I know what I need to”.
We still need information but not as frequently.
Letting our icy grip loosen on the screens will take time and conscious choices by our families and us.
Don’t blame the kids, ourselves, or the screens.
They did the job, and they kept us going.
We were all so sick of seeing each other or pretending to be ok over lockdowns that it was easier to say, “ah, let them do it,” while we cosied up with Netflix or our friends on Facebook.
But now, like that partner you want to break up with and go back to being friends, our focus needs to change.
A big step is a family plan/contract that is built with input from everyone whilst calm.
It needs to be clear how long screens can be used over weekdays/weekends and maybe a day a month with no rules.
Where possible, get your young people to decide when they will use their allotted time.
You cannot ask anyone to go from eight hours a day to 30 mins.
There will be a complete family revolt.
Most importantly, you as the parents need to lead this by role modelling it.
Young people will quickly shut down if there is one rule for the grownups and one for them.
So, if there are no phones at the table, get a phone basket, and everyone pops theirs in.
If its no screens before school, then everyone needs to.
If rules get broken, the contract needs to have agreed consequences.
If people start slipping screens before school, turn Wi-Fi off for that period.
But don’t pull out heavy-handed consequences straight away.
We want to bring about the change gently, with love, with humour and with an understanding that this is not easy.
Decide on other things to help fill the time.
You can’t take away and leave a gaping time hole.
If your kids like a bit of sport, head down to the local basketball courts or football ground, get some exercise equipment or do yoga.
If your kids are more creative — get the art stuff out.
Get the cameras out and print out the best ones for the walls.
Music or podcasts — the non-screen silence can be unnerving for some at first.
Do home mani-pedis, facials, or hair treatments together.
Or solo ones like scented baths, et cetera.
Each person learns how to cook a new meal that they love.
Get them with their friends in person.
Make a firepit for fires with marshmallows.
If there are extra jobs around the house, they could make a few extra bucks out of — get them on those.
Ask your kids if there is a new skill they’d like to learn — car maintenance, carpentry, cake decoration; find a short course together.
Finally, we need to reteach ourselves and our kids how to be without constant screen attention.
This isn’t an overnight venture; it will take time and conscious awareness.
Talk to your young people over time about how they are going with it.
If they say it’s hard, then validate that it IS hard.
Share your experiences of what has and hasn’t worked for you.
It’s incredibly important to remain calm, collegial, and full of praise for the steps your family make in overcoming this issue.
Until next time folks!
Natalie Rinehart (B.A.Sci (Psych); Grad.Dip.App.Psych) is a Young Person & Family Counsellor/Life Coach
0425 735 106

Image: Pixabay