As much as we love to pull out the old parenting favourite, ‘When I was a kid, we didn’t have screen time!’, there’s probably a better way to manage your child’s screen time than switching them off and booting your kids out the back door.
As children, we were faced with television as our biggest screen problem, but the attack of screens for our children comes from all sides and in many forms. It is also portable and runs 24-7, so they could potentially be on a screen anywhere and anytime.
Children and screen time are part of our ongoing reality and we probably should accept it. Rather than trying to avoid them altogether, it may be a better plan to teach your child how to manage their screen time wisely. As they get older you are no longer going to be able to keep them away from screens – it is the digital age after all!
From a very young age, they are exposed to screens. This can include constant access to smartphones and tablets belonging to parents as well as television streaming services that mean their favourite show is available on demand. It also includes access to news (and fake news), social media, and seemingly ungoverned video banks like YouTube.
If left without guidance, let’s face it, your kid would never actually turn the screen off. As long as they had a power cable and wi-fi access, they would never put it down.
What are the Biggest Concerns about Screen Time?
When we lay it down, the concerns that you might have as a parent about your child’s use of screens are actually pretty huge, and very real. These include:
- Addiction, reduced social skills, and general psychological effects
- Physical effects of lack of exercise, poor eating, lack of vitamin D, poor sleep
- Sharing too much on social media
- Online bullying
- Online predators
Simply turning off the screens or banning your kids from using them isn’t the answer, however. Management and moderation are.
How much screen time should my child get?
Have you noticed how angry your child gets when you try to get him to turn off the screen, or if you take it out of his hands? When your kids are fighting over screens, does this seem worse than over any other toy or disagreement?
And the opposite effect is also true – have you noticed how much nicer and calmer your kids are when they don’t have screens for a while?
They do learn things while they are on the screen, but being constantly on a screen is also supressing other aspects of their learning and development. They have everything they want to know on tap right in front of them – this affects their cognition as well as their social, emotional and psychological growth.
Medical experts recommend that children aged between 2 and 5 years of age have no more than one hour of screen time a day, with all other children up to the age of 18 limiting their use to two hours a day.
For younger kids this sounds reasonable, but for anyone older than 12, limiting it to less than two hours could be a challenge for busy modern families.
We need the guidelines to be accessible for the average parent, or else they just won’t work.
How to Manage Your Kids’ Screen Time
You could try to raise your children completely without screens, but we all live in reality here. Not only are screens a convenient part of modern life, they are essential for learning and working.
Giving your child your phone while in the doctor’s waiting room or when out at a restaurant for dinner is fine. And I cannot even begin to figure out how parents survived long car trips with kids before screens – can you? What on earth did they do?
The key to living with screens is moderation. You need to manage, in partnership with your kids, how much screen time they get.
Setting guidelines together for your household is a great idea. These should extend to everyone in the house – Mum and Dad shouldn’t just be sitting on screens hour after hour either, unless they are working.
Here are some good ideas for screen guidelines for families:
- Not before school
- After school, no screens until homework is done
- Set a curfew when they have to off by every night (at least an hour before bedtime to help your child wind down)
- On weekends and school holidays set time limits (e.g. screens off between 9am and 4pm)
- On weekends kids can earn screen time by doing chores or taking part in exercise
- Give your child a two-minute warning before they have to turn them off
- If there is any fighting then the screens automatically go off
How Does This Work with Older Kids?
If you have toddlers, now is the time to put some guidelines into place regarding screens. They will grow up knowing these boundaries and hopefully live easily within them.
If you are trying to introduce new guidelines to older children who may have had complete freedom until now you will face a harder task. But it’s not impossible.
The key is to not just give them a list of rules – you should sit down with your children to develop your family’s screen time guidelines together. Explain the reasons for the rules, don’t just demand adherence to them.
Tips for Managing Screen Time
Accept that in this day and age, some screen time is inevitable. Especially as your kids go off to school.
Set rules and guidelines together so your children also agree to them.
Mum and Dad have to stick to the rules too!
You may find that giving them a ten-minute warning (and probably a two-minute warning as well!) is a good idea when they are getting close to the time screens go off.
Fight through the ‘I’m Bored’ – your kids will start whining instantly that they have nothing to do, but if you can wait through this for at least fifteen minutes, they will inevitably entertain themselves. It is really healthy for your child to get a chance to be bored.
If you are looking for ideas of things to do with the kids, read our blog on ‘60 Things To Do With Kids When They Declare I’m Bored’. There are some great ideas that take little to no preparation or time to organise.
Living with screens is a balance, like many other parts of life. If you set boundaries for your children and help them understand the reasons for these, as well as sticking to the boundaries yourself – you will be off on a great start.
Set timeframes and situations for acceptable screen use. Then balance these by making sure your child is involved in a range of other things as well, including keeping up with their homework, catching up with friends (in person!!), getting out in the sunshine and getting some exercise.