The fiendish parental loop of banning, then un-banning gaming and screens

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It’s half-term here in the UK, and parents up and down the land are already hitting PEAK exasperation point with the screen-time battles. I was sent a press release this morning about a new survey of 805 British parents, which found that 48% argue with their children at least once a week about screen/media time, while 35% argue about it daily. During school holidays, I suspect the latter stat goes up.

(6% of parents said they’ve never argued with their kids about screen/media time. I DON’T BELIEVE YOU. But if it is true, are you available for in-home consultancy please?)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the loop that we get in to, sometimes, when tackling these arguments. Every so often, after one too many joypad-flinging tantrums about coming off Rocket League or having to do some chores before getting online, we throw up our hands and say ‘OKAY. NO SCREENS THIS WEEK! / THIS HOLIDAY!’ And thus begins a fiendish loop that I’m still not entirely sure how best to escape.

Here’s the loop:

  • The children don’t have screens for a set period of time. Their behaviour improves; we spend happy, active time together; the PS4 gathers dust and nobody really notices; everything is lovely.
  • At the end of the set period, the kids’ view is ‘We’ve been so good haven’t we! We’ve definitely earned screens back!’. Our view is ‘You’ve been so good haven’t you! This is why maybe the screens shouldn’t come back!’
  • We fret that not bringing the screens back will seem too much like punishment for good behaviour, so we bring the screens back.
  • At some point in the next weeks / months: repeat.

There’s something… challenging in the fact that banning screens for a set period of time does seem to break the children out of the cycle: they holler at first but quickly relax and find other things to do. But is that because they know there’s a theoretical end-point to the ban? In which case, why wouldn’t they be outraged if, at that end-point, we say ‘you’ve been so good we’re carrying on the ban’?

The no-nonsense response to this, I know, is ‘STOP NINNYING ABOUT and BAN THE SCREENS FOREVER!’. Sometimes I drift off into a happy daydream about a world in which this happens in my household, I really do. Then again, I also think about the good things that these devices can bring, not to mention the social implications if we cut our kids off from what their friends are playing and doing.

Anyway, the challenge is the mismatch in thinking: when devices are banned, my kids see their good behaviour as proof they should get the screens back, and I see it as proof that maybe they’re better off without the screens. If you have thoughts on untangling this, I’d love to hear them.

In other, related news: both my sons are, as of today, having a device-free rest of the half-term. They are currently enthusiastically walloping a football against the wall of the office I work in down the garden – I suspect to put me off the stop-ninnying-about solution at the end of this week…