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Ask Dr. Zoe – My Child’s Screen Addiction, How Do I Limit It?

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‘Sammi’ Asked:

How do I help my child wean themselves away from screens? It’s only a few hours a day but she feels entitled to it and gets hostile once I ask for it back or tell her to turn it off.

Dr. Zoe Answered:

The problem isn’t the screen time (although the device struggle is real), it’s really that she’s responding to you in a hostile way.

It’s okay for her to be disappointed, frustrated, even irritable. Those are feelings and all feelings are okay. But hostile? That sounds like a behavior issue. Her hostility tells me that she doesn’t respect you or believe you. We teach our children how to treat us through our action or lack of it.

Without the device, help her learn other forms of entertainment.

I have had a similar issue with my daughter and my response was to remove her devices for a few days, with the explanation that screen time is a privilege, not a right. You do not need to wean your daughter off of screen time. Our brain does respond to TV like a drug, but it’s okay to go cold turkey on this addiction. In fact, weaning her is just changing the rules too much. One day she can have three hours of tv, the next only two? That is crazy making for a child. What you will probably have to do is help her learn how to spend her time without her device because occupying herself is a learned skill that is deadened by mindless entertainment.

Notice, I didn’t say that you need to now become her entertainment. Too many moms (me included) fall into this pit because our children are so used to being entertained. It’s draining to be constantly entertaining them, so we stick them in front of a screen. Then, we don’t want to remove the screen because we can’t or don’t want to entertain them. Vicious cycle.

Our brain does respond to TV like a drug, but it’s okay to go cold turkey on this addiction.

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Just like our mamas used to say: it’s good to be bored. That is my mantra whenever my kids complain of it. But you may need to help her a bit because the screens have lessened our kid’s ability to know what to do with boredom. But for the most part, let her work it out.

Children thrive off of clear, consistent rules.

Simply let her know what your decision is regarding how much she is going to consume and why the rules are changing. Then you must follow through with it. If you don’t follow through with the time limit, you are just teaching her that she can’t trust you.

Remember, it’s okay that she’s angry that the rules have changed. I’m still angry that aging has deemed that I can’t eat a bowl of ice cream every night like I used to (not if I want to stay the same size anyway). But it’s not okay for her to be hostile, rude, or disobedient to you because of her anger. Demonstrate to her that you can tolerate her anger and that you understand her anger. It sucks when you can’t get what you want. I’m sure you understand that. When you validate someone’s feelings, they tend to dissipate. When you ignore them or belittle them, they grow.

Just make it clear that these new rules are good for her and she must respect them even if she doesn’t like it. Sharing an experience from your childhood when your parents set a rule for you that you hated will help her see that you get how she feels.

When you validate someone’s feelings, they tend to dissipate. When you ignore them or belittle them, they grow.

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It’s also fair to give her a warning when her time is up. Even if she can tell time, it seems to slip away unnoticed when we are caught up in a good show or game. Giving her a five-minute warning or setting a timer can be a great help to transition her out of screen time. Sometimes an abrupt removal of the screen can have a whiplash effect in the brain, creating the anger and frustration.

Children aren’t in charge, but they do deserve an explanation when rules change.

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The most important thing is that you explain to her why this is necessary. No matter how old your daughter is, she deserves an explanation that she can understand about why the rules of the house are changing. You don’t need her permission to change the rules at any time. She just deserves notice and your reasoning as to why.

A simple explanation for the youngest of children is that too much time spent in front of a screen isn’t good for our brains or our bodies. As she gets older, you can elaborate and even share some research to back you up.

Remember, the biggest issue is a heart issue, not a screen issue. It’s time to dig deep into tough love. You’ve got this, mama! It just takes a little grit and grace.

Looking for more about parenting and technology? Check out:

We Worry About Screen Time for Kids, but What About Us?
Here Are 5 Ways to Protect Your Child Online
5 Screen-Free Activities That Will Entertain Your Teenager
Who’s the Boss? 5 Ways You Need to Be the Authority

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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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