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  • Writer's pictureSaleema Noon

Screen time: testing limits (your child) and setting limits (you!)

Drawing of looking at a laptop screen and mother looking scared
“Pushing the boundaries was about the girls expressing themselves in new ways…” Image: Bob Al Greene/Mashable

Hand your child an electronic device and you are letting them loose to explore the online universe. They’ll begin charting their own territory. You’ll begin relinquishing some control.

Helpfully, sex educator Saleema Noon has created Smart Things To Say: Screen Time – “a drama-free (well, almost) strategy for managing screen time” and an amazing resource of stats, tips, common questions, insightful answers and scripts of things you might want to say.

Here Saleema talks about how her kids pushed limits, how she confronted her own need for control and how hard it can be to navigate screen time even when you are an expert…

The photo above was taken about 10 years ago, a few weeks after we gave my youngest stepdaughter a smartphone. I know that because we had “words” about her putting her new phone down long enough for the photographer to get the shot.

Hands up if you can relate.

When we gave each of the girls their phones (the summer after they were 12) we had some conversations about the importance of taking care of them and using them responsibly. At the time Instagram was just becoming a thing so we also talked to them about privacy and safety, always being kind when posting and presenting themselves on social media in a way that they felt proud of. We followed their accounts and all was good.

For a minute.

Then began what seemed to be a never-ending cycle: The pushing of boundaries. The warnings. The nonstop nagging (mine, not theirs). The arguments. The constant negotiation for more screen time. Then the sneakiness. Consequences. More arguing. Not to mention the stress over selfies. It was blindsiding. And discouraging. And exhausting.

And they were good kids!

I would lie awake at night thinking: “What is happening here? I teach about this stuff… why can’t I get this right?!” My personal and professional life collided like never before… and not in a good way.

Those thoughts led to more destructive stories about my role as a step-parent in general. ”If the girls respected me they would make different choices,” I told myself.

Why didn’t they respect me?

Drawing of a girl lying down looking at an iPad
Image: Olga Tropinina/The Conversation

It all got to be too much and I had to let my husband Chris take the reins (until this point it was kinda my thing). Which also terrified me because he has a less “on it” approach to most things than me.

Side note: have you ever thought that if you could combine your parenting style with your co-parent’s parenting style, the result would be epic?

Anyway. Once I was able to step back, the reflection and realisations came:

I realised that the girls didn’t always respect the rules because:

a) They were preteens. Pushing the boundaries had nothing to do with me or even respect. It was more about their need for independence. Expressing themselves in new and exciting ways. And learning from their mistakes. All important things!

b) The rules reflected my needs, not theirs. Specifically my need for control – what I thought I needed to do to keep them healthy and safe. OUCH. That’s tough to admit, even now. I know now that I couldn’t control everything they were doing with/on their phones. Nor could I protect them from the yucky stuff. And no amount of monitoring or rules could change that.

Drawing of a girl looking at a phone with the light on her face
Image: Olga Tropinina/The Conversation

I realised that I hadn’t considered a critical question: what was I afraid of? Was it about safety? Was it about health? Was I worried that they wouldn’t get their homework done? Or stop valuing face-to-face interactions? Answers to those questions should have guided my approach.

Maybe most important, I also realised (and am still reminding myself) that when it comes to parenting, “perfect” can’t be the goal (like it is in many other aspects of my life… still working on that one).

Whether it’s parenting around phones, screen time, social media, helping around the house or bedtimes… the goal can only be “good enough”.

So with that in mind, I created the free parent resource Smart Things To Say: Screen Time. It’s a biggie (11 pages long!), so set some time aside to have a look.

Here’s to imperfect parenting and hoping this wasn’t TMI.

Read more about Saleema in our blog post Social media & the comparison game

Saleema Noon is the co-author of Talk Sex Today: What Kids Need To Know And How Adults Can Teach Them and founder of Saleema Noon Sexual Health Educators. Her 6-week online course the Growing Up Game Plan (cost £115) for kids about aged 9-12 on internet safety, body image, being assertive, gender stereotypes, expressing emotions and more was designed along with preteens. Try out a free on-demand Growing Up Game Plan: Parents Edition webinar (select any session from the menu). Follow Saleema on Instagram

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