Preventing screen-time blowout: A holiday guide for working families

When both parents are working over the holidays, how the heck are you supposed to manage screen-time?

Here are the experts’ top tips … and they start with putting a plan in place right now.

Summer means freedom. Freedom from schedules, exams and uniforms. Freedom from “get in the car, right now please!” and “have you finished your homework yet?”  

But for working mums and dads - which is to say, for most Australian parents - the gap between New Year’s and Australia Day can be a juggle. Letting kids go free range while the grown-ups get back to work may be a tempting prospect. But experts warn it will almost certainly put them at risk of a screen-time blowout. 

Six out of ten Australian parent couples with children under 18 are in the paid workforce, according to the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Our long summer holiday period can pose all kinds of complications for working families - including screen-time management issues. 

Six out of ten Australian parent couples with children under 18 are in the paid workforce, according to the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The problem, warns Family Zone cyber expert and clinical psychologist Jordan Foster, CEO of ySafe, free time can all too easily translate to screen-time

“From observations I’ve made working in schools and clinical practice, my conservative estimate would be at least a 6-hour daily increase in screen-time is typical over the summer holidays,” Foster says. 

Because most children spend about two hours of leisure time on devices during the school year - that adds up to a whopping total of eight hours a day during the holidays. 

Yep, that’s the equivalent of a full-time job!

Holiday screen-time is  a problem for every digital family.  But working mums and dads face the greatest challenges. “If parents aren’t around the house supervising and enforcing screen-time limits, the situation can really spin out of control," says Foster.

"When kids are bored, they seldom spend time brainstorming what else they can do to quell their boredom, when technology is so accessible and engaging.” 

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Setting screen-time limits is important, but having the ability to enforce them is crucial. And that’s where parental controls like Family Zone come in. 

With the Family Zone Box, parents can manage screen-time for each and every single device that connects to the home WiFi - gaming consoles included. Adult content will be blocked and restrictions on social media and other apps can be applied as parents see fit.

If your children have their own 4G data, adding the Mobile Zone app to the mix will allow you to do the same for their mobile devices, no matter where they go this summer.

Dr. Kirsty's top tips

But technology alone - no matter how sophisticated - can’t solve the whole problem. So what else can you do? We asked child development specialist, busy mum and Family Zone cyber expert Dr. Kristy Goodwin for her top tips for working parents (and isn't that all of us?): 

  • Create a media management plan before the holidays begin. Set firm rules around what, when, where and how much screen-time each child is allowed. Don’t forget to clarify with whom it’s okay to connect, too! Consider doing this in the form of a written contract, like this one, prepared by Family Zone. And get buy-in from carers too - whether babysitters, grandparents or friends.
  • Take time to help your child find high-quality, age-appropriate content. The research is clear that “screen-time ain’t screen-time.” Interactive, educational apps and videos can be a wonderful addition to your child’s holiday fun. Mindlessly scrolling through social media, not so much. 
  • Be exact in your instructions about cut-off points. Tell your child’s carer how to do this. For example, “You can watch two episodes of PlaySchool, and then turn off the TV” or “You can get to level five in the game, and then you need to turn it off.” For older kids, discuss the boundaries you are setting before you put them into place, and be willing to negotiate if circumstances change.

car-kristyDr. Kristy Goodwin, child development and digital wellbeing specialist, author and Family Zone cyber expert

  • Give warnings before screen-time ends. Called “cognitive priming,” these simple verbal reminders get kids prepared for switch-off - thus preventing the dreaded techno-tantrum. Again, make this advice clear to carers. Or do it yourself with a well-timed text from the office. 
  • Establish no-tech zones. Ideally, all children should use screens in publicly accessible rooms. I strongly recommend that parents keep bedrooms, bathrooms, meal zones and play areas device-free, for all age groups (grown-ups included!).
  • Rope off tech-free times. Digital kids need “green time” - that is, time out of doors, in nature. Make sure all screens are switched off an hour before bedtime (ideally 90 minutes before, if you can manage it).
  • Don’t use screen-time as a reward - or, for that matter, as a punishment. It’s a short-term fix, and it sends the wrong messages.
  • Use parental controls to ensure kids aren’t accessing adult content. OK, I said technology can’t solve the whole problem - and they can’t. But reliable, flexible parental controls are a no-brainer. I personally use, and recommend, Family Zone. It keeps kids safe, and it also encourages mums and dads to talk to their kids about their online activity.

 

Happy Holidays - both online and off - from Family Zone!

You can't be everywhere at once. But Family Zone can :) 

For peace of mind this holiday period, don't leave them to their own devices. Start your free trial right now, and create a home where digital kids thrive.

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Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, christmas, school holidays, working families

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