Most kids wish for a new screen gadget or an upgrade of current one for Christmas.

And we might worry about giving it to them since we don’t want Christmas taken up with kids being on their new or current screens, not interested in family face to face time and it all ends in nagging and telling off.
It is therefore so important to give this topic some mindful attention before the festive season starts – so our kid’s screens, and ours, won’t dominate Christmas.

While Christmas is all about having a great time together it is also a time of long, dark and maybe cold and rainy days and it’s all too easy for the kids (and us) to spend time in doors in front of our screens. But here are our practical steps that you can take to ensure viewing doesn’t get out of hand.

Tips for managing screen time over Christmas:
• Have the ‘chat’ before the holidays start. Don’t command or nag but instead use an I-message: ‘I felt that last year I nagged a lot, and it makes me unhappy, and I don’t want to be that parent. I need your help to change that so can we have a chat about how we will agree on screen time over the holiday?’
• Come from a place of listening to what they have to say. Understand that this is important to them, and they like it and accept that they feel this way then try to come to an agreement.
Set timers to monitor the agreement you have agreed to.
Try to have some family activities agreed to every day that bring you away from screens. Go outside, talk a walk, visit a neighbour, play a game and be together, have some fun.
• How to introduce new gadgets into your home: your kids might get a new phone, an upgrade a game that will get really excited about. The trick lies in being on top of any new games or gadgets from the beginning, to have a strategy ‘connected’ to your own values, to plan what you will and won’t allow and agree to it before the new ‘family member’ arrives! So if your child is begging for a new gaming console, gadget or game for their birthday or Christmas here are a few tips:

Example: Sam is 11 years old and for Christmas he wants a PlayStation and the games that all his friends have!
Parents think this through without Sam there, perhaps talking to their partner or co-parent, or discussing with a friend.
Think: ‘are we OK with this Sam having a PlayStation and the games or are we not sure about this, what is the downside’?
• Maybe he already has lots of games and the fear is that more will lead him to be distracted from homework, activities or participating in family life – areas that perhaps are already a struggle!

Solution 1: You decide that YOU don’t want to buy it for him as you don’t agree with it. But HE can save up for it and buy it with his own money as long as you can all agree to a schedule of when he can and cannot play before he buys it (see below how to ‘plan it’), and any other rules you might want to introduce.

Solution 2: No, he cannot have it at all as it’s already a struggle with what he has right now! A flat NO!
• Here you have to allow him to be upset and ‘grieve’ for what he cannot have. But you must stick to your decision and not open the conversation up to negotiation by using too many words. But you might also decide to add that if he can show that his current gadgets are not controlling homework, activities, his mood and family life then you will reconsider. You need to be very specific with what this looks like: what he has to do, not do, say or not say etc., and in what agreed timeframe, in order for you to reconsider.

Solution 3: You will buy it for him with an agreement on when he can or cannot play and the rules around this new game. You sit with Sam and tell him that you will give it to him but that there are some rules.
Parents should state their concerns using an I-message (no finger pointing),
‘I’m a bit concerned that it will lead to more time away from homework and me nagging more and I don’t really want that – do you have an idea of how this can work?’

Sam thinks that for the first 2 days he should be able to play as much as he likes because it is new and he just wants to ‘go mad’ with it – then there can be some rules around it.

Agree together:
Talk about when he CAN play (make it positive). For instance, ‘WHEN you have done your homework and showed it to us, and we are happy with it THEN you can go on your new game for 40 minutes’. At the weekend the plan looks different! You agree to try this for 1 week and see how it goes. If all goes ok, then it would increase to 50 minutes and then 60 minutes. If the ‘deal’ is not working, then he can only play on the weekends at certain times. And then put it in writing so it’s clear and all sign the deal! You also agree that Sam has to participate in family meals and do his daily chores BEFORE any form of gaming! Now it’s YOUR job as parents to be consistent with this and also not open up for negotiation.
You should expect a little bit of ‘please can I have 10 minutes more’ etc. But then you can come from a place of, ‘I can hear you are upset, and I understand but we stick to the deal’. You also allow Sam to ‘grieve’ for what he can’t have or do (i.e. the game all the time) and let him be upset or angry – just ignore it! This way of planning for new gadgets can also be used for planning your summer with screen time in general.

Lead by example:
• Children will always gravitate toward the modelled behaviours of their parents. You are your child’s role model and so if you cannot disconnect, how can you expect your child to disconnect? If they see you reading a book, they are more likely to read. If they see you watching television/on phone/computer etc., so will they. Consider them your screen shadows.
• Be honest, how often do you: just quickly go to check your email, a text and weather online etc. If you can just ‘nip’ in and out of your screen time, why can’t they? Do you need that much screen time when you have kids around?
• Insist, for instance, that everyone in the family leaves their mobile to charge in the kitchen at night to avoid being disturbed while sleeping.
• Do you really need to have your phone with you at all time?
• Why not try a ‘screen’ free day, week or a whole holiday! I wish you a very Merry Christmas

Mette Theilmann, Founder of Predictable Parenting and the Parenting Community app