When I became a parent, I could not have imagined how much time we as a family would spend daily in front of a screen. Nor could I have imagined the hours that my husband and I would spend discussing our children’s screen time and the content they watch. No matter what solutions we came up with, they were ultimately unsustainable and would fall by the wayside, creating a lot of frustration for all of us.
After feeling stuck once again with my children’s screen time, it finally dawned on me that we were approaching it all wrong. We had been treating screen time as a solvable problem while it was, in fact, a perpetual problem needing a very different approach.
Screen time is a perpetual problem
John Gottman’s research into problems in relationships has shown that 69% of conflicts in relationships are about perpetual problems. This applies to all couples, regardless of whether the relationship is thriving or not. Perpetual problems make up the vast majority of problems in any relationship, because we have two people with different personalities, life experiences and deep-seated values, needs and ethics.
Perpetual problems cannot be addressed in the same way as solvable problems. Solvable problems are situational and the conflict does not have deeper meaning to either party. Once a solution is found, it can be maintained with relative ease.
Perpetual problems may look solvable on the surface, but because they are based on fundamental differences, they come up again and again, and require solutions and compromises that suit all parties.
The meaning of screen time changes as children grow
In hindsight, I can see where my husband and I got it wrong. Firstly, we failed to see that screen time meant something very different to each of us, especially the children. We also did not take into consideration the fact that any solution we created was time-limited. As the children grew, what they wanted from digital world changed. Finally, we didn’t take into account that each of our three children had different needs and interests. Hence, we could not apply a one-size-fits-all solution to our family screen time policy. The solution to children’s screen time is to create and individual time-limited agreement with each child.
Create a different agreement with each child
To figure out how to manage screen time in your home, start by approaching it as a perpetual problem. You may need to find different solutions may be required for each child. Have a chat about screen time with each child. Listen to them as they tell you about their position on the issue. Encourage mutual respect – they should listen to your point of view as well. Work on creating temporary compromises that you will revise on a regular basis. As the parent, you may have a bit more say on the particulars. However, the older your child is, the more collaborative your compromise should be. Be willing to be flexible, if that is what you are expecting from your child.
Here are some questions that may help you open up the discussion about screen time:
- What does screen time mean to you?
- How do you feel about the way we manage screen time in our family?
- What is currently working for you in our screen time agreements?
- Has anything worked well for you in the past?
- What is not working for you?
- Is there something that you can be flexible about?
- What does a compromise look like for you?
Do you and your partner disagree on screen time?
You may recognize that the core problem on how you are managing screen time is between you and your partner. The solution is the same as with your children. Treat screen time as a perpetual problem that will not have one solution. See it as an opportunity for each of you to understand each other’s core position better. Look for ways to honor something that is important to both of you. It will give you an opportunity to connect and ultimately get closer to each other.
The Gottman Institute has created couples workshops to help you manage conflict better. Bringing Baby Home, is for couples transitioning into parenthood. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and The Art and Science of Love is for all other couples.
Read more parenting articles by Dr Ava and Matleena here.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.