Guest post written by Leslie Kasperowicz
Screens are a part of our daily life these days; between smartphones, tablets, television, and computers, most families have an abundance of screens in the home. And while all of the digital media out there has done a lot to make our lives and communications easier, too much time looking at a screen isn’t good for kids.
The AAP recommends no screen time beyond video chats for kids under 18 months and very limited time up to age two. Between two and six years old, they recommend no more than an hour a day. The older they get, however, the harder it is to keep them from the draw of that glowing screen.
Making a plan and sticking to it is the best way to minimize screen time, and these tips will help you do just that.
#1 – Be a Role Model
“Do as I say, not as I do” is a classic parenting line, but it isn’t helpful when it comes to teaching your kids good habits. They see you on the phone all the time, why shouldn’t they do the same? Show your kids it applies to you too, and put down the phone.
Limiting your own screen time means you’re more focused on the people around you, and your kids will see that. Keep your phone in your pocket when out for a meal, and don’t use the TV as background noise – put on some music and sing along, instead.
#2 – Don’t Give Them Their Own Devices
Bottom line: fewer screens, less screen time. A shared family tablet reduces the amount of time each individual spends looking at the screen, and it will prevent your children from disappearing into their separate corners each with their own device.
Keep televisions and video games in a central area of the house, and don’t put a TV in anyone’s bedroom (even your own – remember tip number one!).
The longer you wait to get your children a smartphone, the fewer screens you will have to contend with. If your child really needs a phone, there are several non-smartphone options out there that are easier for parents to control and monitor.
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#3 – Cut Off the WiFi
Most devices aren’t much fun when they don’t have internet access, and that’s within your control thanks to available parental control apps for your WiFi router.
These will allow you to set device-by-device limits on access to the WiFi connection in your house. You can set time limits and turn off the WiFi to each device at your convenience.
Setting your child’s device WiFi off during the night will also prevent them from sneaking a tablet into bed to binge YouTube videos under the covers without your knowledge.
#4 – Designate Tech-Free Zones and Times
Set hard-and-fast rules about when and where screen time is permitted. No phones in the dining room, for example, or Screenless Sundays. Again, these rules need to apply to everyone or they simply won’t work.
If your kids do have smartphones or tablets, have them plug devices in at the end of the day in a central location – don’t allow them to take their devices to bed. Keeping phones and tablets out of your kids’ rooms reduces the temptation to use them when they’re supposed to be put away for the night, and prevents them from grabbing it first thing in the morning, too.
#5 – Use Parental Controls
Many devices, particularly those aimed at kids, have a number of built-in controls that allow parents to monitor and limit use. Some even have a setting that cuts off access at predetermined times. You can choose the number of minutes and hours you want to allow the child to play on that device, right in the settings.
By setting the limit ahead of time and having the device itself in control, you avoid a lot of arguments and cries of “Just five more minutes!”
#6 – Provide Other Options
One of the best ways to make screen time less enticing is to come up with other ways to occupy free time with a variety of entertainment sources.
Create a well-stocked craft area in your home with plenty of fun things to work on. For older kids, that might mean building models or STEM learning kits. Have a solid library of books on hand, and get a library card. Gather a collection of fun games, and offer to play them with your kids.
Kids tend to turn towards the screen when they’re bored. Create a “Bored Jar” filled with slips of paper suggesting an activity. Direct kids to grab an idea from the jar when they’re at loose ends rather than opting for more screen time.
#7 – Look For Single-Serving Options
Instead of letting your kids hit Netflix, where episode after episode can fly by along with the hours (we all know what it’s like to get sucked into a binge), look for options that end the “watch next episode” impulse.
You can download individual episodes of a show, or you can have them watch a movie on DVD where there’s limited content rather than an endless stream.
As a bonus, you will have more control over the content your children are viewing.
#8 – Be Available
We all lead busy lives, and there are times when a half hour of TV for the kids is the only way you can get dinner on the table.
But when possible, be available to engage in activities with your kids. Especially for younger kids, your attention and engagement are important. The more time they spend in activities with you, the less time they will spend staring at a screen.
Bring them into the kitchen and give them age-appropriate tasks to help with dinner. Sit down to play a game together in the evening rather than separating to watch your own shows. And even when “Netflix and chill” is the order of the day, consider watching together.
#9 – Get Ready for Road Trips
A long road trip is a recipe for too much screen time, so plan for other entertainment options.
A lap desk for the car is a great way to give kids a surface on which to draw, color, and even play games. Magnetic travel versions of favorites like tic tac toe are a great interactive activity.
#10 – Make it Non-Negotiable
Sticking to hard-and-fast screen time rules isn’t easy, particularly in the summer months, but it’s important to stick to them as much as you can.
While there will always be times when you have to let the rules slide – when the flu hits the house, for example, and everyone is couch bound – try not to let it happen.
Don’t use extra screen time as a reward, and be prepared to explain that the rules might be different at a friend’s house, or at Grandma’s, but they aren’t negotiable at home.
The screen time struggle is one of the big challenges facing parents today. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools out there to help win the battle, and you can take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
The bottom line: consistency and good role modeling of screen time behaviors will pay off in the long run. Stand firm and remember that as much as they might dislike it now, your kids will understand and appreciate your efforts one day.
Leslie Kasperowicz holds a B.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg, and is a Staff Writer at ExpertInsuranceReviews.com. Her ten-year freelance writing career has covered topics from insurance to entertainment reporting. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two sons.