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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Why you need to get rules in place for kids’ screen time

Last week I wrote about the need for parents to work in the interest of their future self by implementing a technology policy early in a child’s life. Doing this will make the adolescent years less challenging and problematic. We must, first of all, have a clear idea of the boundaries we want in our home.

All children crave them, they are what makes children feel safe and allows them to flourish in life. Before I discuss them, think about boundaries as stabilisers. How does a child learn to cycle safely? Parents attach stabilisers so the child can calibrate their centre of gravity by bouncing off the safety of the extra wheels to eventually righting themselves until they don’t need them to be safe.

It is through the safe exploration of cycling with stabilisers that the child comes to understand how to cycle. Once they do that, they can do anything with the bike, wheelies, jumps, etc. 

So, boundaries are stabilisers. They help a child calibrate the world, making mistakes, bouncing off them safely, and figuring out what they can and cannot do until they right themselves and head off into their adult world with clear parameters and critical thinking. Healthy boundaries are not autocratic, you are not the tsar of a little country, ruling your subjects with oppressive boundaries that annihilate the spirit of the child.

I often meet parents who proudly tell me about the boundaries they have in place. They delineate a static environment, where the child is stifled by rules and regulations. When I meet their child, they are generally depressed; desperately unsure of how to please their parents. 

A boundary should move a little and then come back into place. If it is too rigid it will destroy the child’s spirit of adventure. 

I have often spoken with fathers who explain that they pulled the games off their children because they over gamed and broke the rules. That isn’t a boundary that a child can learn from, that just teaches children not to get caught. It can make them quite duplicitous, as they desperately struggle to hide their behaviours from a despotic tyrant.

Parents can also view boundaries as dictatorial, and of course if they are too rigid, they are. But it is vitally important to understand that boundaries teach our children how to self-regulate and take calculated risks. Parents who are permissive in their parenting also create issues for their children moving into adulthood. Once a child has been given the unrealistic expectation that everything will go their way, and that there are no consequences for their behaviour, the adult world will prove incredibly challenging. 

As a couple or a single parent, you have to sit down and decide what it is you are trying to do. What is it you want to achieve? How are you going to do that? One of the most destructive things I meet is inconsistent parenting.

One parent wants to bring in rules and ramifications and the other believes that is unfair on the child and acquiesces any time their partner isn’t around. This is such a destructive dynamic for a child to experience. 

Remember, you need to sit down as a couple or a single parent and figure out what you are trying to do, and why do you want to bring in boundaries. Once you decide that, you must now think about how you need to be aligned with that rule.

A family divided, will never be at peace. Inconsistent messages have such a deleterious impact on a child’s development. If you are unhappy about how the other is bringing in the boundary never express that in front of the children. Parents need to be united so both stabilisers are working.

The child would learn to cycle in a very awkward way if only one stabiliser functioned. The most desirable type of boundary is an authoritative one. This is clear, concise, and in the child’s language, it also has the potential to move slightly and then come back into place. 

For example, let’s just say you told your child they could game for 40 minutes on the weeknights and for two hours on Saturday and Sunday. Before you set the boundary, you should expect your child to push the boundary and break it. You don’t overreact when that happens, the boundary comes into play.

So, let’s just say they game for one hour on Monday, they have broken the rule and shown they are not sophisticated at self-regulation, just yet. That’s OK, here comes the learning. They cannot game on Tuesday, and on Wednesday they can game for 20 minutes and if they show that they can manage that, on Thursday they can get the game back to the usual time. 

Now, in this example you have taught your child the consequences for their behaviour in a way that doesn’t destroy their confidence. Boundaries are so important for your child’s happiness in adulthood. Give them that gift.

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