How many of us are concerned with the amount of screen time our children are receiving? Let's face it, kids have access to screens everywhere they go, be it at school, in the car, at a friend's house, or even at restaurants. These things can be such a godsend for those times when parents NEED a break for whatever reason, but are our kids getting too much screen time?The American Pediatric Association has come out with some guidelines for screen time. They recommend that under two years of age, a child should not have any screen time. Above top years of age, the recommendation is to limit screen usage to two hours a day. For the modern parent, these guidelines can seem impossible to meet. As I have struggled with this in my family, I have realized that screen time is a big crutch for me, not just my kids. When they are watching TV, the house stays clean, there isn't usually much fighting, and I know exactly where they are. I do not have to discipline my kids when I can give them a screen that will distract them from acting up. I fell into a rut after I had my third baby. I became really lax about my screen time rules. Now that my baby is over a year old, I am taking control again. There was definitely some protest about it at first, but after two days, and they were loving more interaction with mommy and daddy. I have a few tips that can help out when you are trying to cut back on screen time with your kids.
- Hide the remotes. My 3-year-old knows how to turn on the TV and work his way into Netflix. We all know the Netflix binge all too well. Kids can do it too. Hiding the remotes makes it harder for him to just turn on the TV when I'm distracted enough to not notice or interfere. This gives you more control.
- Set expectations and warn them before abruptly turning off the TV show or video game. Let them know what two hours means in real time; for my 3-year-old, that means four episodes of Paw Patrol. Even though he isn't necessarily counting, I can help him keep track and say, "okay, that's three, now you have one more left!"
- Give choices about usage during the day. My 3-year-old will sit and watch TV all day. So, when he is watching tv, I will ask him after an hour if he wants to use up all his time then, or wait and use a little more later. If he chooses to watch it all in one sitting, I stay very strict and do not let him get away with more later.
- Associate screen time with another part of the day that they can look forward to. Our routine lately has been that my 3-year-old can watch TV while the baby naps. This is so great because that gives me a two hour break, and I can work out or do other projects and have some "me" time. It is a time we both look forward to for different reasons.
- Engage your child. This might be one of the hardest parts. It takes a lot out of me to say, "hey, why don't you turn the TV off and I'll play Legos with you!" or "do you want to shoot hoops with mommy?" It means that I am not able to just take time for myself all day. Let's be honest, I'm sacrificing my Instagram time but I find that engaging with my kids is a lot more enjoyable, but it's hard to bite the bullet. It was a hard day when I realized my son stopped asking me to play with him because I always had something else to do. He started watching more TV and I started enjoying more me time and then I realized that we were growing distant. I only have him at home with me all day for a couple more years. I realized I wanted to make the best of it and develop that relationship early with him.
- Show some restraint yourself. It is going to be hard on your kids if you are limiting their screen time and then spend the majority of the day on your phone in front of them. One of the best things I have done recently is leave my phone in my room. I have times that I allow myself to catch up on what's going on, but Instagram will always be there when my kids are in bed. I want to make the most of their awake time, and it has made such a difference.
- Limit screen usage on activities such as on walks and what would otherwise be seen as downtime. Using devices in restaurants and other public places can be a double edged sword. It will quiet your child, but then they will always need a device to be quiet, and they will be bored without it. Just FYI, being bored has actually been shown to help kids. The constant stream of entertainment that kids are exposed to can be difficult for them when things aren't entertaining, like when they are learning math or the piano.
- Limit video game usage to one day a week. Video games are even more addicting than regular screens, especially first-person games. In my household, my six-year-old can only play age appropriate games on Saturdays, and he also has a two hour screen limit. He can choose to use it up playing Minecraft or break it up. If he forgets to play on Saturday, and asks to make it up on Sunday, we don't allow him to.
- Screens inside the car is a tricky area, since most cars now have TVs that can play movies, etc. Our rule is that we will only consider using the TV in the car if we will be in the car longer than an hour. Otherwise, it's not an option.
- Rotate toys. A new toy in the house can occupy a child's day playing. The more a child is used to the toys in the house, the more the excitement will be taken away. You can box up half your toys and then bring those boxed toys back out after a couple months and rotate. That will keep the novelty alive a little longer and they can be more excited about playing.
- Help your child develop a skill or hobby. My 3-year-old loves sports, so I will go outside with him and practice soccer with him or shoot basketball with him in our hallway, and help him practice dribbling.
- Give them time to play outdoors. This will feed their soul. Sometimes I think the greatest joy a toddler can have is running at full speed for however far they want.
- Instill a love for stories and books. It is documented that reading for, and with your child, can do amazing things for them and their brain development, not to mention the bonding that you will enjoy as you explore new characters and stories with your child.
There are many reasons why limiting screen time can improve your child's learning and your family life. Being a parent is tricky and exhausting, but if you put in the time early to set screen limits and guidelines, and also to connect with your kids over a game of Legos or My Little Pony, your kids will thank you for it. You will feel better connected, your kids will be happier because they will be disciplined instead of always leaning on electronics to keep them entertained.