Whether you’re happily married, co-parenting, or a single parent, it’s difficult to enforce rules when there are different tech, screen time, and social media rules at mom’s house, dad’s house, grandma’s house, an aunt’s house, or even at friends’ houses. The inconsistent rules can be confusing to kids and frustrating to adults.
So how can spouses, exes, and anyone else who watches your kids better compromise and enforce set rules for healthy screen time, social media, and technology? The SmartSocial.com Team asked some parents and experts to weigh in.
1. Determine the rules, everyone agree to enforce them, and establish consequences early on
Kathryn Ely, Associate Licensed Counselor, Empower Counseling & Coaching
Sit down together and create bright-line rules. Let everyone involved have a voice. Be honest about your why for the rule you want and gently advocate for it. For example, “I want to limit you to playing video games or having your phone available only after your homework is complete because your education is important to your future.” The best way to have choices is to be educated. Switching back and forth from homework to phone is distracting and makes learning more difficult.
Decide together on the rules that will be followed by everyone involved. Decide exactly what the consequences will be for each person if they do not follow the rules. This is crucial. Oftentimes we leave this part out, and it leads to arguments and strife. Don’t wait until a rule is broken to determine the consequence, especially when co-parenting and not living together.
2. Create a social media agreement for all to sign
Josh Ochs, Founder, SmartSocial.com
No matter what the rules are when it comes to screen time, both parents need to agree to having a set of rules and sticking to them. It’s a good idea to create a family social media agreement together and have copies sent to each home the child visits to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to online behaviors, screen time limits, and consequences. Regularly referring back to the agreement will remind students (and parents) of the commitments they made and the consequences they could face no matter where they are using the device.
Need help writing and setting up a social media agreement? We go over this and more in our course: Dangers Parents Should Know Before Buying Their Student A New iPhone, Android, Chromebook, or Tablet (And How To Set Them Up)
3. Only allow device usage if your kids are in the same room
Alex Shute, Editor-in-Chief, Faith Giant
I usually use screen time as a way to distract my kids so I can finish my work during business hours. My wife would prefer that I stop my work when my kids get home from school and that there be no screen time for the kids. As a compromise I usually finish my work early 2 days a week and then the other 3 days a week I allow my kids to watch some educational videos online. The other boundary that we have for our children at this age is that they can only use devices when we are in the same room with them. So my children watch their shows with headphones on in my office while I finish working.
The rules and boundaries that we have set up are intended to limit screen time during this period to educational television or eliminate screen time as much as possible.
4. Factor in the content of the app, rather than the usage
Ori Hofnung, Founder & CEO, GiantLeap
All parents should encourage their children to connect what they see in the screen world to their experience in the real world (screen to reality bridging). For example, If an app asks children to sort wooden blocks by their color, parents should have an activity with their children to sort out close by their color as they sort out laundry in the real world. If an app presents wooden blocks and bolts children should play with tactile wooden nuts and bolts.
Active engagement is better than passive viewing -An app that requires children to act, remember, decide, and communicate with their parents is better than a TV show that allows them to absorb content passively. In addition, the TV should rarely be on in the background, and TV time should be separated from the rest of the day.
The parent’s focus should be on the content of the app rather than the technology itself.
5. Understand each viewpoint and communicate the plan
Jared Heathman, Your Family Psychiatrist
It is not uncommon for parents to disagree on the rules and limitations of screen time. If not discussed in advance, parents are likely to enforce the rules to varying degrees which causes arguments and frustration that rubs off on the children. It is helpful for parents to have an in-depth conversation about why they want to impose limitations. Communication is key to help understand each other.
One parent may believe that exercise and creativity are being stunted by screens, and the other parent envisions screen time leading to interests in programming, coding, and a successful career. While both parents are looking out for the child’s best interest, they are doing so in opposite ways. Understanding why each parent has their respective views helps to coordinate a compromise that will improve family dynamics.
6. Open communication to find middle ground is key to setting rules for the kids
Jill Sandy, Gardener, & Founder, Constant Delights
I think the best way to find a way to agree to the same set of rules is to openly communicate. Tell one another what your concerns are, and identify why and where the difference of opinion exists. Instead of shutting each other’s perspective out, and confusing your child about whose rules should they follow, it is better to communicate. Find a middle ground and then stick by it. This will compensate for both the parent’s perspective and also would help both of you compromise on certain things. There won’t be solely just one parent doing all the talking and the other just listening.
If parents don’t agree on screen time rules, chances are you’ll just confuse your child and they won’t listen to either of you. Other than this, it will only cause an unwanted clash between you and your partner, which shouldn’t be the case. The aim is to parent your child, rather than having to be parented yourself.
Everything starts with open communication. It’s easy to be quick to set the rules, but it’s important to hear others’ opinions and ideas before coming to a conclusion. Be sure to find a resolution that works for everyone, identify clear rules, and set consequences that everyone will enforce.