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Doctors and other professionals agree, limiting screen time for kids is necessary for their health. However, it’s often easier said than done. The number of options for screens and new apps to download is growing fast too. While fighting this can feel overwhelming, winning it is possible.
Below is a list of five screen time tips for kids that can help. It has suggestions for proven actions parents can take to limit screentime. As you read them, keep in mind that you’ll need to approach your strategies based on the age of your child and the dynamics of your family. What works for some parents and kids may not work for everyone. As you try a strategy, experiment with it so that it fits your schedule, lifestyle, and values.
1. Give some advance thought to screen time amounts
Before you do anything else, give some thought to your goals for limiting screen time for kids. Consider the age of your child, the types of media they use, and the amount of time you feel they should have on each screen. Then factor in other household activities like chores, homework, hobbies, sports, clubs, and family time. Lastly, consider the specific personality traits your child demonstrates and how they are impacted by screentime. Some kids may become overstimulated with just an hour of time on their gaming console but be ok with watching several episodes of a family-friendly sitcom. Others may show effects from watching just half of the amount of screen time that is recommended for their age group. Once you consider your child’s reactions, you’ll be able to customize an approach that’s right for them.
2. When time’s up, use technology to enforce limits
After determining how much time you want them to have on each device, identify the kinds of electronic help you can find with shutting down screens when the time is up. On Apple devices using iOs 12 or higher, parents can not only view how much time users are spending on each app but they can set a function which closes out an app once a pre-determined time limit is reached. Playstations, the Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and Windows PC operating systems have similar time limiting features. Android phones have these capabilities, but they’re not completely rolled out yet or can be difficult to access on some devices.
In addition to device-specific electronic tools, some of the larger individual apps are also including options to monitor or set use limits. These include Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. However, some users have found that the kinds of functions on an app repeat, rather than add to, what they can access through a device.
3. Create a checklist of things to do before screentime starts
Another way to cut down on screen time for kids is to create a list of things kids need to do to before screentime can start. For a lot of families, this includes things like homework, chores, reading for pleasure, or time outdoors with friends. In many cases, kids become so engrossed in these kinds of other activities that they don’t want to move onto something else, even if that something else is screentime.
A different version of this strategy is for parents to set up a structure where kids earn their screen time through a variety of non-screen activities. How does this work? In some families, each chore completed may give them 5 minutes of screen time during the same day. Playing outside or completing homework might earn them 15 minutes of screen time. Working on a craft might earn 20 minutes. The earning activities and time allowed naturally change based on a given situation.
4. Out of sight, out of mind
Location, location, location isn’t just an adage that applies to the value of a real estate transaction. It can apply to the values families put on screens as well. In many households, the television is situated in a central part of the family’s living space and this may unconsciously be giving a strong indicator of the worth they place on screens. Consider if it is possible to move the screen to a less central location in the home, perhaps downstairs in a family room basement or in a family room upstairs. In addition, consider not allowing larger devices in bedrooms or removing screens if they’re already in place. Lastly, consider storing any tablets, phones, or gaming systems in drawers or cabinets when they’re not in use. Hopefully, screens that aren’t in anyone’s visible line of sight won’t be used as often.
5. Provide lots of opportunities for non-screen activities
Providing a wide range of non-electronic activities for kids to do can naturally reduce their screen time. This is the same strategy nutritionists suggest for having fruit bowls and pre-packaged vegetable or whole-grain snacks available so kids don’t turn to junk food alternatives as quickly. The bonus to this approach is that the more kids make healthier choices for what they eat or how they spend their time, the easier it is becoming for them to repeat the same choice later.
Applying this kind of approach to screen time doesn’t have to be difficult. Talk to kids about the kinds of non-screen after school and weekend sports or hobbies they want to try, then sign them up for a club or team. In addition, set up outdoor playdates with friends, get to know other neighborhood families, and have lots of recreational equipment available in an easy to access spot like the garage or a basement. As kids start to enjoy these activities, they’re likely to want to play with friends and do them first, forming a healthier habit away from devices.