Health experts have repeatedly sounded the alarm over excessive screen time and children’s inactivity. In response, many have created guidelines and provided tips on how to control screen time.
The problem is that simple “control” doesn’t work. It usually just leads to ugly power struggles with kids.
Maybe it’s time to try a new approach—one that doesn’t involve power battles between kids and adults. What if we focus on creating easy habits that support physical activity instead?
Easy habits approach
In his bestselling book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, Stanford professor B.J. Fogg describes how it’s possible to create positive lifestyle habits in three easy steps, with simple tweaks to our daily routines.
First, you identify a behaviour that you want to make a regular part of your life, such as drinking more water or exercising more often. Then you do three small things:
- Make your new behaviour habit “tiny” and simple, so it’s easy to do.
- Identify a time and place where you will fit it into your daily routine.
- Celebrate each time you do it so it becomes a happy experience.
For example, imagine you want to start doing push-ups every day to build strength, but you hate doing push-ups. The secret is to make the task as simple, small, and easy as possible:
- New habit: I will do five push-ups every day.
- Time and place: I will do them in the morning on the kitchen floor as my coffee is brewing.
- Celebration: After my five push-ups, I will flex my arms like a bodybuilder and say, “Yeah! I am mighty and awesome!”
The celebration part is very important. As Fogg says, “emotions create habits.” Celebrating and feeling happy about the behaviour strengthens the mental associations in your brain that make it easier to do it again. With enough repetitions and celebrations, the new habit becomes something you want to repeat again on a regular basis.
Easy habits for screen time
This approach can be effective in managing screen time with your family. Team up with your child and follow these simple steps: Start by identifying the new habit that you want to create around the use of screen devices, identify the time and place when you will perform this habit, then decide how you will celebrate each time you do it.
For example, imagine the times or the situations when screen devices tend to cause the most problems in your home. Perhaps you can’t get your kids to put down their devices at bedtime, or they want to look at them at the dinner table. Perhaps they aren’t cleaning their room or doing their homework because they’re too busy looking at their screens. You can create a new habit for each of these situations. For example:
- New habit: Everyone (including you) must turn off their screen devices before going to bed to ensure a good sleep.
- Time and place: In the living room one hour before bedtime.
- Celebration: Parent and child read a bedtime story together.
There can be many ways to celebrate. You can make it as silly as you want. The key is to make the habit small and easy, and the celebration fun and enjoyable.
At Active for Life, we have created and compiled some great resources for you here. You’ll find a few sample easy habits around screen time that you can try at home today. We have also put together the Easy Habits worksheet to help you make your own. (You can print extra copies and encourage your kids to try as well.)
Remember, whatever new habit you create, your celebration is critical to making it stick, so think about it carefully. High fives? Fist pumps? Cheers? Happy dance? Make it fun and memorable.
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