It is amazing how kids can be sucked into the vortex of screen time. Indeed, it represents the go-to for thousands of kids seeking to escape responsibility, bad feelings or conflict. In this context, it is the child’s version of alcohol or pot.
Between separated parents, a dispute over screen time can erupt into a debate on parenting itself. To add, screen time may be used by a parent to gain favour of the child. When this is the case, we may see an escalation of parental conflict. One parent seeks to limit screen time, and the other enables it.
If the child is using screen time as a coping mechanism, simply curtailing use is likely to be ineffective. That is because the underlying issues of the child are not being addressed.
In these situations, it is not enough to limit use, a therapeutic intervention may be required, especially with the parents so that they may come to understand the impact of their dynamic upon the child. It can change the tone of discussion when one moves from a view of “bad parent,” to a view of “the child has some unmet needs.”
Determining a child’s unmet needs is more than just asking the child the question. It involves meeting and working with the parents first to uncover their emotional availability to their child; whether the child has academic issues; or if the child is subject to ongoing parental conflict.
As for how much screen time is okay, that depends on the situation and child. If the child is taking care of responsibilities, is reasonably adjusted to the parental situation, and the parents are able to advance the child’s emotional needs over their issues about the other parent, then screen time, regardless of amount, may be okay.
If however the child is not meeting obligations, then no amount of screen time may be good.
Parents may not be on the same page about screen time. It doesn’t mean the one parent should throw up their hands and capitulate to the child to keep pace with the other parent. You can still set limits and boundaries. This works best when you are also emotionally available to your child and manage to keep the child from parental matters as much as possible on your watch.
It’s a sticky issue for sure. However, this issue don’t resolve well through court intervention as orders are difficult to enforce.
Learning to manage and set boundaries in one’s own home with a reasonable counsellor may make the best of a challenging situation.