Limit Screen Time: What Parents Can Do

When we add up the hours spent watching television, playing video games or surfing the Internet, it appears that children spend more time on screens than on school desks

Limit Screen Time: What Parents Can Do

When we add up the hours spent watching television, playing video games or surfing the Internet, it appears that children spend more time on screens than on school desks. For the age group between 1 and 6 years old, digital consumption has tripled since 2011, from two hours to more than six hours per week.

Faced with this situation, most parents are worried about the effects of these uses. The invasive presence of screens in the home has also become one of the major sources of tension in the relationship between parents and children.

Parents are eager for advice on how to limit what they consider too much screen time, yet parents are faced with contradictions that are difficult to circumvent: they themselves spend an average of four and a half hours a day reading their emails, browsing the news from their social networks and watch streaming series.

This management of screen time is coupled with doubts and deep concerns fueled by the nature of the digital content consulted by their children. More generally, parents are exposed to a deep sense of loss of authority as knowledge transmission models are revisited in digital terms; teenagers often prove to be more competent than their parents to understand the new uses of virtual goods.

However, the deleterious effects of screens on children are widely documented in the academic literature: impacts on physical and mental health - loss of sleep, excess weight, difficulty concentrating... -, on school performance and on interpersonal relationships.

On the other hand, their consequences for parents are rather overlooked, whereas they generate stress, poor self-esteem and loss of confidence in their personal effectiveness as educators, responsible for the well-being and future of their children.

Focused primarily on the medical field, the notion of well-being has extended to whole swaths of human existence, involving activities such as sport, leisure and even food. However, defining well-being is relatively complex.

Concretely, academic works in economics and positive psychology distinguish two approaches to well-being. Objective well-being focuses on quality of life. It is measured using indicators such as the poverty rate, level of education or health risks. Subjective well-being refers to each individual's evaluation of their own existence and translates to "feeling happy". Subjective well-being articulates hedonic and eudemonic well-being:

The first fluctuates according to specific experiences, generating pleasure, and has three dimensions: the satisfaction experienced by the individual with respect to his life, positive emotional feelings, such as pleasure, and the absence of negative feelings;

Eudaemonic well-being is deeper and more lasting, it is based on a commitment to meaningful activities for the individual, conducive to the acquisition of skills, to a good self-esteem and to the existence of social ties.

Within the domestic sphere, well-being is little investigated, even though the family is perceived by young people as a source of fulfillment and reassurance. At the same time, the media relay this difficulty in being "a good parent" and point to the increasing complexity of the conditions for exercising parenthood within the home with the arrival of digital technology, undoubtedly legitimizing a rethinking of this parenthood through the welfare.

In order to ensure their well-being, parents resort to technological tools: parental control software, automatic storage of the child's online activities, protection of personal data. These devices are intended to protect their children in an automated way without having the feeling of having to turn into spies or bodyguards.

These solutions are relevant to preserve the well-being of parents because they tend to erase the negative feelings of adults but they often result in ultimatums, generate negotiations, even conflicts.

Feeling watched in their private space, adolescents adopt avoidance strategies that establish relationships of mistrust and, ultimately, affect the relationship between parents and children.

Therefore, it seems essential to communicate by adopting a two-step process. First of all, it's about encouraging children to share their knowledge and know-how to create a bond around screens.

To promote harmonious cohabitation with screens in homes, parents have no choice but to review conventional models of transmission. First of all, accept that the transfer of skills can be upwards with children capable of explaining to them the functionalities of digital tools.

Once the technological barrier has been crossed, it is up to the parents to take responsibility for educating their child in the rules of digital technology and in the use they make of the various screens, in particular by controlling the content viewed. These exchanges of information and these sharing of knowledge around digital technology must contribute to their hedonic well-being.

In a second step, it is a question of communicating to regulate the practices applicable by all the members of the family. The establishment of specific rules – such as the prohibition to use screens at the table or in the room – and the limitation of connection times can be discussed with the family in order to achieve a balanced use adapted to each age.

Parents – often overconnected – are therefore invited to reflect on their own practices and the models they represent in the eyes of their children. Implementing these educational measures, accepted by both parents and children, is undoubtedly a way to promote well-being.

The omnipresence of screens in homes results in an excess of rather individual digital activities, not conducive to exchange and sharing. It is then a question of reinforcing the eudemonic well-being of the parents by promoting common activities around the screens to reduce tensions and reinstate the digital in its role of mediator of social links.

Another option is to spend time off-screen doing activities that promote well-being. The health crisis has been rich in lessons on the ability of families to reinvent relationships in the home and build a harmonious bubble between parents and children. The ensuing periods of confinement prompted most families to revisit activities within the home.

Withdrawn into the domestic sphere, which has temporarily become the only space for sociability, parents and children have (re)learned to spend quality time together. Board games, making cakes, sports or manual activities, so many moments conducive to sharing, the transmission of skills and sources of positive emotions and feelings of personal effectiveness.

Achieving a balance between well-being and parenthood today is a real challenge, given the many societal pressures and contradictions. But many solutions exist and well-being seems to go through regaining control of parental authority but also by seeking a balance between digital and non-digital activities so as not to multiply very fleeting pleasures which, on a long time, do not necessarily make you happy.

* Caroline Rouen-Mallet is a teacher-researcher in marketing at the University of Rouen-Normandy; Pascale Ezan is a university professor, specialist in consumer behavior, food and social networks at the University of Le Havre-Normandy; Stéphane Mallet is a teacher-researcher in marketing at the University of Rouen Normandy.