How to break your kid's screen addiction

The other day, while the boys were at school, I walked into my lounge and was shocked at the sight. Our coffee table was filled with empty, or half empty, glasses, plates covered its surface and there were crumbs and food bits all over the floor. Turning my back on the mess I wandered back into the kitchen, there was space above the dishwasher for extra plates and glasses so I didn't know why they hadn't been taken out. Then I walked into my eldest's "area" (it's an open plan room next to the kitchen) where I spied more glasses and plates on the floor. 

I didn't pick up the dirty plates or glasses. 

Teaching my boys about consequences

As a stay-at-home mum you might think why. Why didn't I just collect all the things and put the dishwasher on? Well, it's a matter of principle you see. In our house there's a rule for the boys - as long as their homework is done, and chores are completed, they are allowed to play games. Can you guess which bit they're choosing to ignore?

How To Break Your Kid's Screen Addiction | A tidy lounge is great, when they're not playing games and doing chores instead!
This is what my lounge should've looked like!

Yep - the chores.

I do my chores every day - if I didn't the house would be shocking, there'd be no clean clothes for anyone, and to be honest I'm not sure I want to live like that. So is it so unreasonable to ask my boys to do their bit? I don't think so. At almost 10 and almost 15 they're old enough to be able to do things for themselves but also know that they need to help around the house too. 

I learned a lot when I was 14 and 15 years old doing chores inside and outside the household, and as a result, I grew up with a good work ethic.

Jack Kingston

So back to the story. I didn't pick up those dirty plates, I left them there all day while the boys were at school. It was in my head all day, I kept saying to myself "why don't you just take them through and put the dishwasher on, it'll only take 5 minutes and then the house will be tidy". But I didn't. Or rather, I almost did once until the Hubby said "Don't do it." and then I left them. So, I waited for the boys to get in from school.

As usual they came in and got changed, they got on with homework. And then they asked about games. And I said no.

No justification. No arguing. Simply "No".

Cue the complaints, the stomping around the house. The strops are epic when I refuse to let them play their games. They think I'm being Evil Mum again and that it's all unfair.

How To Break Your Kid's Screen Addiction | LP's messy bedroom after he'd ignored his chores for a few days.
This is LP's bedroom after he'd ignored his chores for a few days. 

Once they had calmed down I pointed out all the glasses and plates. I showed them the empty dishwasher. And within about 20 minutes both my boys had done ALL of their chores and were asking about games again. 

It's all about the rules

My answer was no again and they didn't understand why.

So I explained.

We have a rule in our house (yes, another one) - if they don't do their chores one day, then the next day they don't get to play games. This has been a changing situation in our house for a long time. We didn't used to have this rule, but because the chores kept getting ignored we had to come up with another way to encourage them to do it.

Our rules include:

1. Homework, chores, revision to be done before any game playing/screen watching.

2. If homework/chores/revision doesn't get done, the following day is a no-tech day.

3. No-tech days are always on hand for disrespect or misbehaving.

Since screens and games play a large part in our kids' lives we decided we needed rules to ensure they thought about something other than the games they're playing. They need to learn that their actions have consequences and that they can't expect to be able to do the thing they enjoy whenever they like, especially if they've misbehaved.

Screen addiction, obese kids

There's been a lot of press recently about obese children, about screen addiction, and about the impact that games have on children.

First of all I will say I don't think my kids are addicted to their screens. I think they love to play games and watch TV, like all children, but it does not come ahead of everything else. I think if we didn't have our rules this would certainly be the case but because we are strict and stick to what we say our boys have learned that they can't do whatever they like. 

That said, last weekend we did a trial. We had noticed our eldest was watching a lot of movies and playing games during the day during the weekends. He was ignoring chores, playing games, and then when I mentioned chores he would say he was going out with friends. The chores got left. And off he went, probably to play games at his friends' house.

So we decided to try something new. We had a time limit on screens and games - for ALL of us. None of us were allowed to sit playing with phones or looking at screens until at least 3pm. Movies weren't allowed before 7pm. 

I tell you what, I never thought I was addicted to my phone (apart from the constant scrolling on Facebook and checking out Your Phone Reviews when I'm looking for a new one!), but I realised I'm in quite a routine at the moment. I'll wake in a morning, get up, make breakfast, switch the news on, and then pick up my phone. It was so difficult to not do that!

But here's the thing, it was a good day.

We got the house tidied. We played board games together. We went for a walk. LP built a fort. BP did some drawing. And the Hubby and I went for another walk later. It was a packed day, but not packed with games and tech, it was other stuff and actually I felt really good.

How To Break Your Kid's Screen Addiction | Get outdoors, go for a walk, and get your kids running!
Getting out and about did us all good!

We talked about it to the boys, asked them what they thought of the day. At first they said it was boring, but then they thought about everything they'd done and concluded that actually it was a really good thing and they wanted to do more of it.

The memories we make with our family is everything.

Candace Cameron Bure

As a family we've neglected playing board games recently - which used to be one of our favourite things. But since our trial at the weekend we've decided to get back to that. There's also the walking, which is not only good for our health but we get to go outdoors and enjoy the sunshine (when it's there!). Add to that the fact that LP is already deciding which old toys he's going to play with this weekend, and BP has been planning a writing project, and I think it's going to be a huge success.

How To Break Your Kid's Screen Addiction | Deer shading under a tree at Wollaton Park - something you could see on a walk.
Just one of the beautiful sights you could see on a walk!

If your kids are addicted to screens

First of all you need some rules. You can't be letting them look at screens whenever they feel like it. After all, you're the parent right? It's your job to teach them, to make them understand that in order to do the things they like, they have to do things they don't like first. 

  • I would start with introducing rules slowly. Talk to them about it first. Make them understand that if things don't change, then rules will come into place. 

  • Once rules are introduced - stick to them. No allowances. No get-out clauses. 

  • No tech in the bedroom. This is so important. My boys have lots of friends who have the consoles or keep their phones in their bedroom at night, and they also know that those friends suffer because of it. They show up to school tired. They don't get work done on time. We have no tech in the boys' bedrooms - it's simply not allowed. BP's phone is charged downstairs when he goes to bed, consoles are kept in the lounge. 

  • No screen time. Everyone has to have time away from screens - including you. So, like us, why not introduce a day, or even half a day, where you're all switched off from screens. Whether that's the gaming consoles, your phone, or the computer, step away from it all and enjoy family time together.

If you show your children that the rules don't just apply to them, it might be easier for them to see that it's a good thing. Talk to them about the addiction, about how it changes their behaviour, and admit to yourself as well as your children, that you need help with that too. 

How To Break Your Kid's Screen Addiction | Just a few rules could help you break your kid's screen addiction.

Like I said, our no screen time last weekend did us all good and I am so glad we did it. We had a lovely family day, our boys got to see us admitting we were doing something wrong too, and we all helped each other keep boredom at bay. 

Are you, and your kids, addicted to screens?

If you enjoyed this post you'll like Teaching your children about online gaming or if you're looking for ways to enjoy family time together check out Activities that will bring you together as a family.

Stop by Facebook and let me know what rules you're introducing to reduce your screen time.

And don't forget you can grab a Wonderful Winter Activity Book for your kids to do during their no screen time! There's colouring pages too, so maybe you could join in!

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