Jan 16, 2024
Whether you’re parenting a young child or a moody teenager, post-screen angst can get ugly. When it comes to tantrums, first, you’re not alone. Second, they look different for each kid, depending on age, temperament, day of the week, what color shirt you wear, etc. Just kidding about the last two.
But if you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there.
The post-screentime meltdown is one of the hardest parts of parenting in the digital age, which is why so many parents give in. We dread the fight and meltdown, but creating a plan ahead of time can help us respond more effectively.
In my book, I’ve written about some strategies and prompts to help mitigate the misery, but I’ll also share a few here.
Strategies and Prompts for Littles (age 10-ish and below)
Acknowledge the difficulty your child has about stopping:
“I can see it is hard for you to turn off.”
“I know it’s frustrating to stop doing something you enjoy.”
Settle on a specific time limit before you hand over the device:
“The timer will tell us it is time to turn off the iPad. I know it might be hard for you to make that transition, but I am here to help.”
“Can we agree that 45 minutes is long enough for today? That’s two episodes of your favorite show, and then we will turn it off.”
Predetermine a strategy to deal with the energy that comes with giving up the device:
“Before we start screentime, let’s make a plan for how we can help you channel your big feelings after it’s over. Would you like to run up and down the stairs?”
“I know when screentime is over, you will have lots of energy. How about we make a plan to go ride bikes or run around the block?”
Acknowledge that you and your child know that a meltdown is still likely, even with all these parameters in place:
“That timer is our cue to wind down. Is there one last thing you want to do?”
“I know this is hard. Tell me about what you will do next time in this game.”
“Time’s up. What’s something fun we could do now?”
Celebrate the successes, even the really small wins:
“Hey! I notice that it took you only five minutes to calm down after the screentime ended, and last time it took 10 minutes!”
“Thank you for working hard to burn off that extra energy after screentime was up. I know that is a hard transition, and I could see you making that effort!”
Dialogue Prompts for Middles (age 10-ish and up)
The key here is to start a dialogue and increase mindfulness.
“I know this is really hard for you. How can I help you stick to the limits we establish?”
“What do you think is a realistic amount of time to be on your phone?”
“How do you feel when you’ve spent several hours gaming without a break? Would it help if I gave you a reminder to take a break?”
“Your brain is really powerful and really wants to keep you playing, but we made an agreement, and now it’s time to stop.”
“I know you’re worried about missing out on important things. How can I support you in feeling connected while also making sure you’re getting the brain breaks you need?”
“I find it hard to put my phone down, too. Is there something we could do together to hold each other accountable? I’m open to trying something new.”
Celebrate the Successes, No Matter How Small
Finally, sometimes it’s really hard to find the wins in all the stress. But it’s important to try.
Even if your child’s meltdown lasts five minutes less than the last, it is worth celebrating. Acknowledging positive behavior is even more important than naming the negative because drawing attention to the positive behavior actually reinforces it. Where attention goes, energy flows.
So focus on the successes, remember to replace judgment with curiosity, and aim to make neutral, observational statements (like “I wonder…”, “I notice…”, etc.)
In our house, we talk a lot about persuasive design. That’s intentional (Tech-Intentional™, in fact– ha!). Though their interests may change—new games, new friends, new apps—the conversations stay constant.
I remember a few years ago, Sylvie was playing a game called Animal Jam with her friend. I overheard her friend say she didn’t like another game because “all these ads pop up” and “they constantly try to get you to buy stuff.”
Sylvie sighed loudly, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “Yeah. That’s called ‘persuasive design,’ and my mom talks about it all the time.”
Celebrate those wins!