In the past, most parents would suggest more strict ways to limit screen time for kids. But today’s dependence on electronic devices has caused a dilemma on how to handle this. Parents are more flexible now.
At around 20 months, my toddler started picking up our phones and laughing when he successfully put them into the “device is locked” mode. There was no hiding technology from him now. We purposely introduced him to the television a few months later, and gave it to him in slow doses with only one show at first, Puffin Rock on Netflix.
When he got to watch more variety, he began to get more demanding. This phase lasted a short while. We would suggest more educational shows, but all he wanted to watch was Disney Cars. A year later, he now asks for more interactive shows and turns off the machine on his own, most of the time.
Here are some suggestions that could help you get similar results as we did.
How to Limit Screen Time for Kids
The easiest way to do this is to simply not allow it at all or use parental control tools to set limits on the devices directly. But this could lead to melt downs and never-ending arguments, which may prove to be harmful to them as well. This has happened to us on a few occasions.
The reality is that they are exposed to media and technology already as part of our daily life today. So what I prefer to do is to teach my child about the dangers of too much screen time and figure out a healthy amount that can be beneficial to them as well.
1. Lead by Example
To start with, you can limit your own screen time use. Don’t pick up your phone first thing in the morning. Get on the computer only if it’s constructive. I actually don’t use a smartphone, other than for taking photos of my kids. Your children are going to mimic everything you do whether you’re aware of that or not. So you can’t really tell them that they shouldn’t watch television if you’re binging 5 episodes of Schitt’s Creek that night. At least wait until they go to sleep. Your kids will listen to you more if you’re not contradicting yourself.
2. Set the Limits
What could work well is if you have an open discussion and come up with a schedule together that makes sense. Maybe it’s 2 hours maximum per day or weekends only. And maybe there is one day with no limits. You could establish device-free zones like the in dinning room or in the bedroom. Or device-free times like during dinner or after 10pm. A good dad would simply explain to them the differences between certain uses of screen time and how to balance it.
Ultimately, you want them the regulate it themselves based around the parameters you’ve set. You can even have them schedule in and set the times for themselves, if you want to take it a step further. Ask them to explain why they want to use a certain device so they have to justify it. But don’t sit there with a stopwatch and turn it off when the alarm goes off. You’ll need some flexibility sometimes. Give them some trust and they will respect the rules more.
3. Teach Them How to Manage Screen Time
After you’ve set your limits, why not show them how to manage it themselves? There are creative methods like the token system, which gives the kids a daily or weekly allowance in the form of tokens. These tokens can be used on different things including electronic devices. Each type of device and the time used on them could cost different amounts. Once the tokens are used up, they don’t get anymore until the next cycle of allowances. You’ll have to setup your own system with your children, but this is the basic premise.
The idea is that they are in control of their own spending, so they learn how to value currency and time. Tokens are given to them as allowances so they are not seen as rewards, like when you tell them they can watch television after they finished their homework. It teaches them how to prioritize and how to handle a schedule on their own.
4. Encourage Other Activities
If you want them to spend less time on their devices, they need to have something else for them to do. Encourage them to read a book, play a board game, or do some arts and crafts. Get them interested in playing sports, have them learn a musical instrument, or just have them play outside. You want to tap into their interests and run with it. These hobbies will keep them more creative and away from the screens when there is down time.
5. Spend Time With Them
Set aside some time in your busy day to play and interact with your kids. Show them your old baseball card collection, have them assist with the cooking, or take them out for ice cream. Do something together that they enjoy, that way they have fun and forget about looking at their messages.
You can even spend time with them in front of a screen, like watching a show together. This allows you the opportunity to interactive with your kids, which is always a positive. Ask them why they keep beating you in that video game and they’ll tell you what their strategies are. You’ll gain more understanding on how they use their devices and be able to better guide them on how to benefit from it.
How to Make Screen Time More Beneficial
With electronic devices being so prominent in our lives today, it’s important to recognize that there are some benefits for our children. Even the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics has become more flexible now, suggesting that it’s time to go beyond turn it off. Some TV shows and games can be positive to their development.
It’s still best to hold off as long as you can before introducing devices to babies. But once they are aware of them, start them slowly and guide them to use it actively rather than passively. Try to be present with them as much as you can at the beginning. They should learn to use devices more as an intuitive, educational, or creative tool and not just for pure entertainment that doesn’t require any thinking. There are plenty of high quality educational Youtube channels and lots of games that involve problem solving skills. Of course, they should be allowed to relax in front of the television sometimes too.
Another great use for electronic devices for kids is the social aspect. Back in the day, we would be on the phone with our friends for ages, talking nonsense. Do you remember? Today, Kids can connect with family far away or stay in touch with friends through screen time, so it’s something they should take advantage of. Just monitor who they’re interacting with and set some usage limits, but it should be harmless for the most part.
Like most things, there are pros and cons. Kids just need balance and screen time is no different.
How Will You Handle It?
Now that I’ve explained my thoughts on screen usage with children, it’s your turn to figure out a system that works with your kids. I’d say just take them outside every opportunity you get.
However, if your kids are already well behaved and do well in school, you could probably just let them do whatever they want with their devices. That’s actually how I was raised.