After my 5 year old son discovered Minecraft eight months ago, screen time became very challenging. At one stage, we were having daily battles over screen time ending, with me setting a Loving Limit (something like, “I understand you really want to keep playing/watching, and it’s time to finish now”), and him responding with hitting and kicking. I started to find it such a drag, experiencing these kinds of heavy interactions every day, sometimes more than once.
Through some self-reflection on power and powerlessness in our relationship (prompted by participating in one of Marion Rose’s online courses), I identified these times as ones in which I was using a “power over” approach. I noticed that as my son’s timer went off (we usually set a timer for screen time), I was wanting and expecting him to finish “right now!”. The energy was that of a demand, and it was bringing stress and pressure into the situation. And when my son wouldn’t stop, I felt uncomfortable, even incensed at times, and utterly powerless.
I realized that my urgency for it to happen “now” was coming from my own discomfort. Sometimes I felt sad that he was missing out the simple pleasures I enjoyed as a child. There was also guilt, because sometimes I had been distracted and let his playing go on longer than I had intended. I was worried that my son seemed to “need” the screen so much, and I told myself that he couldn’t entertain himself. And when he wanted to keep playing and playing, there was fear that he was addicted, and that it was my fault! These were really painful thoughts for me.
My discomfort was also making it difficult for me to see things from my son’s perspective, and therefore show real understanding and empathy for him. So I tried putting myself in the adult-equivalent of his shoes. I remembered being in the middle of writing a post one day, and my son telling me to stop and trying to close my computer. I remembered feeling anxious that something I really wanted was being taken away from me, and annoyed at the lack of consideration for my needs. I could only assume that my son might feel similarly.
It was clear to me now, that when my son didn’t do as I asked and turn off the screen, it was triggering all those painful thoughts and feelings in me and I was desperately wanting them to stop! While I was offering some understanding and keeping the tone warm(-ish!), there was so much tension in me around this issue that the limit was coming out a bit tight and harsh. And my son’s aggressive (“power-over”) response was telling me that he was probably feeling quite powerless in this situation too.
I realized I wasn’t needing obedience from my son in this situation, or even for him to release his uncomfortable feelings as we are often facilitating when setting a Loving Limit. I was needing something different from me, and this is what would turn the situation around for us. I reflected on what being in my “true power” meant to me – being respectful, kind, empathic, self-connected, peaceful, grounded, relaxed, flexible, fluid, and adopting a win-win approach – and the way forward seemed clear.
Something shifted in my thinking and I realised that it was not the end of the world if my son didn’t get off the screen right away; it didn’t mean he was addicted to the screen, and a few more minutes finishing what he was doing wasn’t going to hurt. I imagined that what my son was really needing in this situation was warmth, kindness, understanding, consideration, choice, and a good dose of connection. These were all very real and precious needs of his in this situation.
With this awareness, I started to bring more understanding to these limits, recognizing that my son might be in the middle of a project that he would like to finish rather than having to abruptly turn off the device. And I loved giving my son more choice, so that rather than being really rigid with my limits, I allowed some flexibility in terms of exactly when he would turn the screen off. And it was usually just a matter of 5-10 minutes of extra time for him to finish something, or even just to have choice about when and how it happened.
I also started to bring more presence and connection to the moments that I wanted his screen time to finish. I found that being more self-connected and grounded at these key times really helped me to be warm, kind and patient. Coming in and sitting next to him, putting my arm around him, commenting on something on the screen, and expressing enthusiasm for what he was doing, all helped to reconnect with him after a session of playing games or watching videos. And if I could be playful even better!
I am happy to say that my son and I rarely struggle over screen time ending these days.