How To Manage Children’s Screen Time And Ease That Dreaded Mum Guilt

'Screen time gets demonized a lot, but as parents we need to look at the bigger picture and just do our best,' explains wellness expert Adrienne Herbert.

Adrienne and Jude

by Georgia Aspinall |

‘Screen time gets demonized as this awful thing where we’re all lazy parents for giving kids a tablet, but the reality is we had screen time too it just wasn’t as advanced. Now, kids can connect with family, play educational games or watch something entertaining, screen time doesn’t automatically equal “wasting time”’

Adrienne Herbert, who you may know better as her Instagram name Adrienne LDN, is a leading wellness professional, TEDx speaker and author of Power Hour Book. She’s also a mother to nine-year-old Jude, facing the incredible challenge of navigating parenting in lockdown like millions of others.

Because of that, the motivational speaker with near 70,000 followers has joined forces with Google as part of their Summer of Little Wins campaign exploring the different ways families are looking after their digital wellbeing over the Summer holidays.

‘2020 has not been the summer that anybody planned,’ she tells Grazia over Google Hangouts. ‘We've had to adapt and think and shift. For me personally, my son is at that in-between age where he’s not a teenager but he does want independence. He has relationships with friends he wants to see and normally would during summer, so with lockdown helping him stay connected online has been a new thing for me to navigate. This campaign is all about having that conversation and asking other parents, how are we navigating this?’

Our digital devices have become a saving grace for parents since lockdown began, not just in keeping children connected with friends and family but also helping educate them as schools close, keeping them entertained as working parents soldier on and providing a much-needed distraction on those particularly long days in the house.

But it’s a saving grace that’s also riddled parents with guilt, managing ‘screen time’ is something we’re all more aware of now and before lockdown it was a concept normally demonized, as Adrienne says. Now, as parents desperately seek for the break normally provided to them through schooling and childcare, the idea that screen time is ‘wasting time’ is a difficult subject to navigate. But for Adrienne, it’s all about looking at the bigger picture.

What would this experience have been like if we didn’t have the internet to connect with people?

‘I think back to when I was a child and I had Sega Mega Drive, VHS videos, things I used to watch on repeat,’ she says. ‘My mom was a single mom with four kids at home so we were always watching movies and TV. Sometimes I think as parents we just need to relax, there’s always a new thing to worry about whether it’s food, exercise, school, friends, if you look at it as a 360 picture everyone’s just doing their best.

‘Look at what this experience would’ve been like if we didn’t have the internet to connect with family, friends and colleagues?’ she adds.

While she notes that of course screen time can be ‘too much of a good thing’, she implores parents to think about what their children are doing online as it may not leave them with as much guilt. ‘If they’re watching something, is it entertaining or educational?’ she asks. ‘Are they Facetiming family? There’s so many good things they can do on there and we just need to get creative with it.’

There’s ways to manage that too, she says, particularly using Google’s Family Link app that helps you manage and approve apps, set time limits on children’s devices and lock it remotely when you wish.

‘Jude knows how to navigate Google Play Store really quickly, so managing what apps are approved I don’t have to worry about if he’s going to download something that’s not appropriate for him,’ Adrienne explains. ‘With the time thing, I try not to dictate the rules to him but have an open conversation. We made a little contract were we both agree to the same rules, so I can set the time, he sees that I’m setting it and it acts almost like a middle man between you both so you don’t have to be the parent saying “Right, times up!” as he just knows how long he has.’

‘Involving them in the conversation helps it feel more like a negotiation, especially if you’re still home-schooling or doing certain activities throughout the day like reading or exercising,’ she continues. ‘Allocating windows of time and helping them feel like they have a say – even if you know they don’t – it’s easier for them to take. No one likes to be half way through doing something online and have someone come in and just say “Off now.”’

With her own memories from childhood, Adrienne recalls her mum doing that to her after she’d reached a record level on her game. ‘I remember it so vividly, 25 years on,’ she laughs. ‘I was so excited and she just pulled the plug out of the game and put the vacuum in. I was so upset and angry for so long that she’d just turned if off half way through, so giving them a heads up before that happens saves some tears.’

It also helps children feel some element of control at a time when undoubtedly, they’ll be dealing with the same anxiety we are about how uncontrollable our lives currently are.

Letting them feel like that have some control is important, because then they can rationalise “Okay I can play again tomorrow” knowing that the time will be up soon.

Telling them there’s 10 minutes screen time left is such a small but crucial thing.

Her other tips include using screen time as an incentive. ‘You might have said before, when you asked them do to a chore that maybe you’d give them a pound to teach them the value of money,’ she explains. ‘I think it's kind of a similar thing, you can use it to incentivize and be like “You’re going to do these three things to help me round the house and then when I'm doing work for an hour, you can play one of your games for an hour”. Making it conditional tends to work quite well, especially with Jude, I’ll say “Okay you’re going to tidy up your room and your Lego then you can play you’re game”’

Giving them warning is also important, she says. ‘Telling them there’s 10 minutes left of their screen time sounds like such a small thing but giving them that lead time is important especially for young kids who don’t have a concept of time. Warning them will save more tears.’

Ultimately, utilising these tips and apps like Google’s Family Link don’t just make for better digital wellness across the family, but ease the aforementioned guilt so many parents are dealing with now. Summer might be nearly over, but there’s no doubt mum guilt it a year-round feat – but hopefully, with tips like these it won’t be for much longer.

Adrienne is involved with Google’s Summer of Little wins campaign to help parents look after their families digital wellbeing over the summer holidays. Follow #SummerOfLittleWins on Instagram.

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