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  • Writer's pictureDr. Rachel Kramer

May 6: My Child Acts Rude When Screen Time Ends

Recently a parent sent me a question related to managing screen time and asked if I would write something about the topic in an upcoming newsletter. Answering this question provides a companion piece to my most recent newsletter about initiating a family screen time re-set. Here’s an edited version of the question:

 

We’re finding that limiting Youtube is challenging. We don't want to block something the kids love and enjoy, yet it seems so addicting and scary that there is stuff out there that is unsafe and only a few clicks away. We see a decline in the way our children behave after watching YouTube, the way they treat and talk to younger siblings, language used, etc.  They are so nice and respectful to friends, teachers, and coaches but can be so unkind and rude to parents and younger sibs. 

 

In order to address these types of concerns, begin by finding a calm time to have a conversation with your child about their relationship with screens. Particularly for older children, try to get a sense of what they like best about using screens and whether they see any drawbacks. In addition, ask your child to describe their other (offline) interests, activities, and goals. Consider asking some of the following questions:

  • What do you like best about gaming/YouTube/social media apps?

  • Do you see any downsides?

  • How do you feel when you’re playing/using that app?

  • What about when it’s time to stop gaming/using the app – how do you feel then? Do you notice any patterns when it’s time to stop?

  • What would you say are your main offline interests/activities?

  • Does using screens ever get in the way of pursuing offline activities? If so, why might that be?

 

Regular readers of this newsletter know that I endorse a parenting style that combines warmth and connection with clear boundaries and structure. In relation to conversations about screens and screentime, it is so helpful for parents to approach the conversation with curiosity. Explain that you want to try to understand more about what your child finds appealing about a particular game or app. Show genuine interest in what your child likes to play or watch. Ask them if they will allow you to play along or simply observe while they play, then calmly express interest in what they are doing and how they feel about it.

 

If you have a history of clashing with your child about screens, acknowledge that fact and tell your child you are hoping that your conversations around screens can shift to being more open and less judgmental. Be explicit about the fact that you are trying to implement a re-set for yourself and your approach to talking about the role that screens play in your child’s life. For example, “I know that in the past we’ve had a lot of disagreements about screens. I truly want to understand your perspective. Let’s talk about what you like about screens, and my goal is going to be to really listen to what you have to say.”

 

This parent’s question specifically references children acting rude or unkind after using screens. Know that you are not alone if this is happening in your home. This is probably one of the most frequent concerns I hear from parents of children from preschoolers to young adults. To address this situation with younger children, I recommend being clear that in order to earn the privilege of screen time children need to display calm, kind behavior when it’s time to turn off screens. Emphasize that children are welcome to express anger, frustration, or disappointment when screen time is over, but they may not be cruel or disrespectful to family members.

  • “I get that you’re upset screen time is over. I always want to hear about your feelings but you may not call me stupid.”

  • “Sounds like you’re frustrated that it’s time to turn off your iPad. Even when you’re having a big feeling it’s not ok to be unkind to your brother.”

  • “I hear that it feels unfair that screen time has ended for today. Let’s find a way for you to get the mad feelings out without hurting anyone else’s feelings.”

 

Another useful strategy with younger children is to pre-regulate by talking with them before screen time begins about how they may feel/react when it’s time for screen time to end: “Yesterday turning of Roblox was tricky. How do you think you’ll feel today when it’s time for screen time to end? Let’s make a plan about what activity you want to choose when screen time ends so that you’ll know what’s happening next. What ideas do you have?”

 

For older children and tweens/teens/young adults who are acting unkind or rude when screen time ends, find a calm moment to have a discussion about your child’s behavior and your concerns. It can be especially helpful initiate this conversation within a day or so after your child has displayed the behavior so that you can reference the specific incident that just occurred: “I want to talk with you about this morning after you watched YouTube. Do you remember what happened with your sibling when I told you it was time to turn off your laptop? What do you think was going on? Have you noticed any patterns when we turn off screens? I get that you might feel frustrated when screen time is over, but it’s not ok to be cruel to family members. What ideas do you have about how to manage this situation more effectively?

 

Thinking and talking about screens and screen time can evoke so many challenging emotions for parents including frustration, fear, and guilt. Before initiating a conversation about this topic with your child, consider using a strategy to return your body to a state of (relative) equilibrium such as by taking a few slow deep breaths or using positive self-talk. For example, “This is difficult and I’m going to try my best,” or “This feels hard but it’s not an emergency. I’ll give it my best shot and we can always return to this topic later if things get too heated.” Please be gentle with yourself, practice self-compassion, and remember that you are not alone in this struggle.

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