Screen Time Agreement: A Strength-Based Approach

Today's parents are worried about exposure to screen time. When setting boundaries, they should lead empathetically, not with anger.

Written by Shaleen Porwal

01 Many parents are driven by their negativity bias, selective attention(s) and projection fallacies when they become frustrated. It's important to recognize these thinking patterns, and work to change them.

02 Both child and parent can make mutual agreements that place health, respect and love front-and-center when challenges arise.

Today was a lazy Sunday afternoon. I was browsing a textbook in the living room, while my wife was taking a nap after a week of tireless office hours.

Usually, our boy is jumping and chirping around, but for more than 15 minutes, I heard no noise. Curious, I went over and found him watching his favourite show – The InBESTigators on my wife’s phone. There was nothing inherently wrong with this, as the series is one of the best for children his age. My concern, was that he had watched two episodes earlier in the morning, and taking into consideration our screen time budgeting for the day, we had exhausted his hours.

Now, usually in such scenarios, parental frustrations are driven by a few factors:

  1. Selective Attention (aarghh!, screen time again…)
  2. Negativity Bias (why can’t he understand a simple thing – the limit of usage)
  3. Projection (I stealthily played many video games in childhood myself, how can I get angry)

As a family, we had recently completed a course on parenting, based on the book The Strength Switch by Dr. Lea Waters. It helped me flick my "strength switch" to ON almost instinctively. Strength based parenting is an approaching that preaches acceptance of your child for exactly who they are. It encourages parents to praise their children for their positive traits, to put them in environments that help them thrive, to embrace and understand their weaknesses, and to turn to "strength" when problems arise.

With that in mind, we checked our son's list of VIA Character Strengths and came to a few parental agreements based on some of his "underused" strengths. We then created the following rules:

1. Self-Regulation: Whenever there is an urge to do screen time, I will check with my daily budget, which is usually 1 hour, and moderate my screen time accordingly. And still, if there is doubt, I can turn to mumma or dadda and talk about alternate options that help me make the best usage of my time and top strengths — creativitycuriosity, and love of learning.

2. Gratitude: I am grateful that I have resources at my disposal that I can make use of, for both my knowledge and my entertainment.

3. Prudence: I understand that limiting screen time will help keep my eyes safe (using his top strength of kindness for oneself). I'll avoid wearing corrective lenses for as long as possible, unlike dadda, who wears glasses all the time because of his overindulgence in screen time. Being vulnerable here helps big time.

4. Judgement: In light of the above-mentioned facts, it will be in my best interest to practice some of my underused strengths in conjunction with my top strengths. This will help me build a unique and robust portfolio of my character strengths.

We agreed to write these down and stick them on the wall as a reminder. After accomplishing the above, we hugged and felt an increase in our family trust and respect for one another. It provided a boost of confidence for our future behaviour (him being more regulated and me being a better parent to handle such incidents).

Today, I have realised more than ever that Strength-Based Parenting is undoubtedly the effective science of parenting based on Positive Psychology. It creates a healthy environment for the child to flourish, practice strengths, and avoid negativity and criticism. Both the parent and child are left feeling balanced and content.

Original Series

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