The problem with screen time and your child is that it is such a convenient baby sitter. I remember when my oldest daughter was two, I’d turn on the TV and let her watch Mickey Mouse for 30 minutes. That half hour was a chance for me to get something done.
As kids get older, they are usually pacified with a screen in front of them. When parents are trying to eat dinner out, get something done, or just want their kids out of their hair, they let the screens occupy their children.
Electronic devices are a natural part of our culture and trying to control their use may seem futile, but it can be done if you are committed to setting some boundaries.
First, let’s talk about age-appropriateness. Pediatricians generally recommend these guidelines:
- Under 18 months old: No screen time, except for video chatting with family or friends
- 18 – 24 months: screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
- 2-5 years old: limit non-educational screen time to 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days.
- 5-17 years old: Generally no more than two hours per day, except for homework
Those are strict rules, so I’d say use them as a guideline, but don’t beat yourself up if you give or take on them. The important thing is to set boundaries before your child gets an electronic device. Talk about expectations and set a time allowance. Your objective in helping set boundaries is to keep your kids from getting so hooked on digital devices that it becomes more real to them than real life or that it helps them escape from real life.
Screens are so like so many other objects in our lives–alchohol, food, money, etc. In and of themselves, they are not bad. But it’s the misuse of them that causes problems.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, too much screen time can lead to:
- Sleep problems
- Lower grades in school
- Reading fewer books
- Less time with family and friends
- Not enough outdoor or physical activity
- Weight problems
- Mood problems
- Poor self-image and body image issues
- Fear of missing out
- Less time learning other ways to relax and have fun
So your job is to help your child learn to set boundaries and exercise self-control when it comes to screen time. Here are some ways to do that:
Keep the screens out of the bedroom. Don’t let your kids view screens right before bedtime, 30-60 minutes before. This is because a screen’s blue light can keep the brain from knowing that it’s time to sleep.
Fill the vaccuum: If you cut back on your child’s screen time, it may leave a sudden void. Help them figure out what to do with that free time. Give them suggestions for replacing it with something positive: such as sports, other activities, outdoor games, reading, hobbies, etc.
Turn off all screens during family meals and outings. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing a family at dinner together, all on their screens. Use those mealtimes to connect!
Use parental controls. There are many apps that can help you keep tabs on where your child is and what they are doing on their phones. This is not an invasion of their privacy, this is you looking out for their safety.
Don’t use screens as pacifiers. When you use screens as babysitters to keep your kids quiet or out of your hair, or to stop temper tantrums, you are encouraging them to behave in a way that needs your attention. They know how to work the system. They will be loud or annoy you just so you will give in and let them use a screen.
Teach children about online privacy and safety. Be intentional about this. You wouldn’t let your child drive a car if they were not properly instructed on how to use it safely.
Set the example. Parents frequently set bad examples of controlling their phone use. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen parents out to dinner with their kids and the parents on both of their phones. Set a good example with your own healthy screen habits.
Screens are here to stay and can offer many positive uses. Develop a screen-time plan with your family. Positive and healthy screen use is possible with proper guidance and consistency. You as parents, just have to commit to taking those steps.