Technology has become such an inseparable part of our day-to-day lives that you would be hard-pressed to find a home that boasts a lack of screens. Therefore, reducing screen time has become a real concern for parents.
The average US adult spends 3 hours and 43 minutes on their mobile devices every day. That’s roughly 50 days a year. This advent of screens into our homes has had a worse impact on our children. According to AACAP, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours. This time is usually divided among social media, video games, and video/streaming services, such as YouTube and TikTok.
It raises the question, how can you reduce your child’s screen time on addictive websites such as YouTube, Tiktok, and Instagram?
Here is a step-by-step guide to reducing your child’s screen time on these websites:
- Understand how these websites work.
- Understand why he uses these websites excessively and his habits of usage.
- Manage your expectations.
- Build a rapport with him.
- Have multiple conversations with him over time.
- Set effective boundaries around screen usage.
- Enforce these boundaries effectively.
- Deal with resistance appropriately.
Keep reading to learn more about implementing each of these steps and how you can help your child live his best life. We will also talk about the danger of screen time, and recognizing the signs of addiction to screens.
If video games are leading your son, helping him overcome it does not have to be a one-person endeavor. It can be difficult to get on the same page as your kid and get him to stop spending the whole day gaming. We’ve worked with thousands of gamers, and we know we can help you, too. Click here to learn more about Healthy Gamer Parent Coaching.
The Dangers of Excess Screen Time
More often than not, the time spent on screens comes at the cost of other areas of their life, such as school, relationships with family and friends, physical exercise, and health. That is an extremely concerning reality for many parents.
Here are some of the more harmful effects of excessive screen time:
- Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Increased risk for attention problems, anxiety, depression.
- Increased risk of gaining weight (obesity).
- Risk of Computer Vision Syndrome: Dry eyes, blurred vision, headaches, and poor posture.
- Addiction and reward-seeking behavior due to excessive engagement of the dopamine circuit.
- Impaired social skills due to less social interaction in real life.
Signs of Addiction to Screens and Technology
While screen addiction is not an official medical diagnosis, the behaviors that correlate with excessive screen usage are similar to other behavioral addictions. Here are some signs that your child might be using screens too much:
Inability to control their screen usage.
If your child cannot reduce the time they spend on screens when you ask them to, they might have a problem.
Loss of interest in other activities.
If your child seems preoccupied with getting back on the computer to watch YouTube, play games, etc., and is not able to focus on doing other things, that could be a sign that he is engaging in too much screen time.
Preoccupation with the online world.
Like the previous point, if your child spends time thinking about the online world when he is doing things in real life, then that is a problem.
Lying about screen usage.
If your child starts to lie about screen usage, then it is possible that he realizes that he should be spending less time in front of screens but is unable to stop. Therefore, he lies so that you do not reduce his screen time.
Using screens to escape real life.
Children and teens often use screens to escape the troubles that they face in real life. If this becomes a habit, they lose the ability to deal with stress without using technology to escape it. Therefore, it is essential to catch this behavior before it becomes a problem.
Why Do Children Have Excess Screen Time?
The companies behind YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram design these websites to be addictive. They hire people who can maximize the amount of time people spend on these websites. They mainly achieve this by serving you content that they know you would like.
Adult brains fall into this trap, so a child’s developing brain is especially susceptible to this. They lack the impulse control to be able to resist this behavior. That is one of the major reasons why reducing your child’s screen time is so difficult.
YouTube and TikTok
The YouTube TikTok algorithms are designed to keep viewers on the website for as long as possible. They pay millions of dollars to different engineers to make the website as appealing as possible. Additionally, when you like a video, comment on it, and subscribe to the channel, or even watch the video, the website will serve you similar content in the future.
As a result, the website’s front page serves you information that it knows you will like. It becomes a trap that is inescapable for a child. Therefore, in a sense, it is not their fault that they get sucked in. Their brain is unable to win against millions of dollars of engineering. Reducing screen time on these websites is particularly difficult.
The core principle behind why Instagram is addictive is very similar to that of YouTube and TikTok. However, Instagram is more of a social media platform than the other two platforms. You can share your images and videos, and at the same time, keep up with other people that you follow on the platform.
Whenever someone likes a picture or video that you posted, it is like candy for your brain. It experiences a burst of dopamine, which can be quite addictive. It makes users want to post more to experience the same feeling.
Additionally, you get to see what your friends are up to in your social media feed. It can lead to a fear of missing out, which pushes users to engage with the platform more. It makes you want to keep up with everyone so that you are not left behind. Since this mechanic can even affect an adult mind, children and teens are especially susceptible.
Anime is probably the least addictive form of entertainment out of all of the other platforms. It is more comparable to watching Netflix than browsing YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, or gaming. Children often start watching anime because their friends do, and they enjoy the storytelling and action. Certain animes may have hundreds of episodes, making it hard for your child to quit watching because they become invested in the story and the characters. However, this entertainment form is not designed to be as addictive in the same way as YouTube, TikTok, or Instagram. Therefore, reducing screen time on anime is not as hard as other platforms.
Reducing Your Child’s Screen Time (YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Anime)
The maintenance of harmony in a parent-child relationship is all about managing expectations. If you look at the most significant points of conflict, it is going to be when your child expects something to happen, and you set a limit that they are not expecting.
When you violate one of their expectations, it causes the most friction. That is why setting the right expectations early on saves you a lot of trouble down the line.
Avoid setting vague expectations. For example, imagine that your child asks for an iPad for Christmas. If you ask them, “if you get the iPad, are you going to listen to me?”, the kid will say yes without a second thought. The parent thinks that the kid will listen, whereas the kid simply wants the iPad, and he will say anything to make that happen. Bad expectation setting involves vague and rhetorical expectations.
The most control parents have over boundaries is before the child gets what they want. That is the only time they will pay full attention to what you have to say. Once they get that iPad and start watching YouTube or gaming, they will have dopamine plugging away at them, and they will act out if you ask them to stop.
Ask open-ended questions: “Help me understand why you want an iPad.” Here is an excellent opportunity to learn about their motivations.
What does the iPad mean to them? Maybe all their friends are getting one. In that case, it’s not about the iPad, it’s the fact that their friends might leave them out of their circle.
Maybe they just want to be able to watch YouTube when they are not at their computer. You may not agree with these motivations, but it is essential to understand where your child is coming from.
Ask them what you can expect. “What can I expect from you in terms of doing your chores when you get the iPad?” Don’t ask them if they will do the chores because they will just say yes to anything. Ask open-ended questions to make them think about what you are asking them.
Therefore, managing your child’s and your expectations is the crucial first step to reducing your child’s screen time.
If your conversations around reducing their gaming or time spent on YouTube results in conflict, then the communication strategy needs to be changed. Getting on the same team is the most crucial step to help them reduce their screen time.
Now and then, when they are watching YouTube, TikTok, anime, or gaming, go and sit in the same room as them. The goal is to have them become comfortable with being in the same room as you when they are engaging with screens. They probably associate your presence in the room at that time with conflict. However, if you simply sit in the same room doing something else such as reading, that association will break over time.
Have Conversations Around Screen Usage
Try to have these conversations when they are not gaming. If they are in the middle of a game, they are more likely to lash out and not listen to you. Alternatively, if they are watching anime, YouTube, or TikTok, ask them to pause the video. If they show too much resistance, work with them to find the time when you can talk with them. Ask them when the video ends so that you can have a conversation.
Try to understand where they are coming from. It would help if you did not focus the conversation on implementing change. It should focus on the causes of their behavior. Why are they spending so much time in front of their screens? Do they realize that other aspects of their life are suffering? Make sure to help them understand that it is not a rhetorical question and that you genuinely want to understand them.
You can try to ask them the following open-ended questions:
- What do you watch/play?
- Why do you watch it?
- How do you feel while watching it?
- Do your friends watch the same things?
Remember, the goal is to understand them, not to implement change at this stage.
Setting and Reinforcing Boundaries
You must manage your child’s and your expectations when setting boundaries. In addition to that, also make sure that the boundary is measurable and enforceable.
For example, if your child says, “I will do my homework every day before I watch YouTube.” Initially, that sounds like a great plan. But what if they have an assignment due at the end of the week? When will they do that? Start to ask these questions because they will not think about the consequences of what they are saying. Reframe from vague answers to concrete performance metrics.
The other problem that parents commonly run into when reinforcing boundaries is not being able to stick to the boundaries that they have set. The primary emotion that drives the relaxation of these boundaries is their love for their child.
If the child becomes sad and throws a temper tantrum when the parent takes away their computer privileges, they sometimes get what they want. However, the parent teaches the child that throwing a tantrum gets them what they want. As a result, the boundary becomes meaningless in the future. Sticking to this boundary is extremely important. Nevertheless, it can get challenging if your child rages and becomes violent.
The other approach is to set a tiny boundary and enforce it 100% of the time. For example, if you pull the power cord on your child’s game and ask him to take out the trash, then he might start to rage. However, if you tell him that he will get it back the second he takes out the trash, he will not be motivated to rage anymore. Additionally, it needs to be easier for him to take out the trash than to rage. That will teach him that the boundaries are strict and enforced.
Reducing your child’s screen time on YouTube, TikTok, Anime, and gaming can be very hard. These technologies are designed to be addictive for the internet generation. However, it is possible to achieve a balance and use these websites while at the same time living a healthy and fulfilling life.
Healthy Gamer Parents Support Group
The Healthy Gamer Family Support Program can help. It is a 12-week virtual coaching solution created by Dr. Alok Kanojia, known as Dr. K, the world expert on video game psychology. The Family Support Program covers the most frustrating, difficult, and common dynamics around excessive gaming, including:
- Managing your child’s expectations
- Setting and enforcing fair, effective boundaries
- Dealing with resistance from your child
- Approaching your child based on their stage in adolescence
- Adapting your approach for autism, ADHD, mood disorders, or substance use
For 12 consecutive weeks, participants get access to a workshop and Q&A with Dr. K and weekly support groups led by Healthy Gamer Coaches. The dual support structure helps parents get started, and follow-through in helping their children combat excessive gaming.
We’ve worked with thousands of gamers, and we know we can help you, too. Healthy Gamer Programs are effective and affordable because they’re led by people who get it.
- Healthy Gamer’s affordable solutions are priced to be cheaper than seeing a therapist. For the price of three hours of therapy, you get three months of support from Dr. K, Healthy Gamer Coaches, and other parents.
- Support groups work. As an evidence-based organization, all Healthy Gamer programs use validated outcome measures to ensure progress.
- We get it. Dr. K leads the industry in expertise working with gamers and their families. All Healthy Gamer Coaches are trained and supervised by Dr. K to ensure the highest quality of outcomes.
Click here to learn more about the Healthy Gamer Family Support Program.