In this ever increasing digital age, parents have a tough job navigating it all for the first time. I am often thankful that I didn’t grow up in the age of cell phones and tablets. Our kids have so much information available at their fingertips and in a way that is a huge blessing but it is also a huge challenge. As parents we have to make them pull their eyes off the screen and interact with the real world. Our kids need to talk to real people face-to-face. They need to build, see, and do things in person! They need to have lots of family time to create family bonds and memories. It is a tough job, but parents have got to be responsible for limiting their child’s screen time. Here are some tips and guidelines for how to limit screen time for kids and help them learn to manage screen time for themselves. If we are being honest, even adults need to limit screen time for themselves!
Should Parents Limit Screen Time For Kids?
Yes, they absolutely should. If the past few years have left you feeling more concerned than ever about screen time in your household, rest assured you’re not alone.
Screen time is nothing new, but there’s no doubt it increased for most families during and since the pandemic. As life spun upside down and school moved online, most kids began spending much more time glued to screens for learning as well as play.
Even before COVID, parents were growing more concerned about screen time. In a 2018 Pew Research survey, two-thirds of parents said they were concerned about their teen’s levels of screen time. In a more recent survey conducted by family advocacy group ParentsTogether, 82% of parents said they are worried about their childrens’ screen time – particularly time spent on social media.
Is Screen Time Bad for Kids?
There’s a lot of information and perspectives out there on screens. It’s not hard to find people talking about screen time being evil or destructive for kids’ wellbeing. But in reality, not all screens and not all screen time is created equal. When used appropriately and in good balance, screens from TVs to tablets can be powerful tools that open new worlds of learning, discovery, training, and fun to kids.
So to help you start, here are four common sense, practical starting-point strategies to getting screen time right for your family.
Tips For Limiting Screen Time For Kids
Almost all parents would say, “I wish my kids spent less time on their electronic devices.” The thing is, most parents feel like limiting screen time is a hassle, and most kids contribute to that feeling without compunction! Here are some tips to help you set screen time limits and help your child manage their screen time within those limits.
1. Set Screen Time Limits For Kids
You may be asking yourself, “What is too much screen time for kids?” Well that is exactly where this whole process should start- with thinking mindfully about how much screen time you want your child to be able to have each day. You may want to consult the American Academy of Pediatrics and/or the World Health Organization for their recommendations on screen time for kids. If you don’t set limits, it is way too easy, “Can I watch another show?” to become hours of unintentional viewing. Applying screen time limits will contribute to children’s motor development, cognitive development, and lifelong health. Parents should discuss these screen time limits and present a united front.
2. Explain Screen Time Limits
It always helps people to be self motivated when they understand the why behind things. All ages can understand that less screen time is import to spending more time together doing fun things. Play this one up and remember it yourself because they are only little for a little while- enjoy spending time with them! Older kids may also understand that there are negative effects of too much screen time. VeryWellFamily.com compiled research that states that too much screen time may lead to obesity, sleep problems, behavior problems, educational problems, and violence. I bet you notice that your kids often seem tired and irritable when they get off their devices. Help them recognize that too.
3. Be collaborative about boundaries
We all know what it’s like to be told “no, you can’t.” Whether you’re a kid or an adult, let’s be real — it’s no fun. But how different does it feel when someone helps you understand the problem and invites you into building the solution? All of a sudden you’re no victim, you’re a collaborator!
Kids need that same invitation when it comes to screen time. How much screen time do kids need? Well, what if you asked your kids? What would they say? Try making it a project – grab a big ol’ piece of paper, markers, and make it a family activity to map out a plan to help everyone spend less time with screens and more time playing together. It is good to have already picked a target limit for screen time with your partner (tip #1) before hand so you don’t get too off track or disagree with you partner too much during this negotiation process.
Setting shared goals can be a wonderful way to come together and make a memory while you’re at it. Who knows, you might just be amazed at what your youngsters dream up! For those with a little older kids, check out the great resources that Screen Sanity has developed for having collaborative conversations with your kids about how they engage with technology.
4. Give screen time a “home,” not just a time limit
“Place” has a powerful way of creating associations in the mind – especially the rapidly developing minds of our little ones. In recent years, researchers have uncovered incredible insights into how the mind forms and sustains new habits. Our minds tend to create loops or patterns in which something triggers an action to receive a reward. One way researchers suggest breaking a habit? Disrupt the loop.
A very practical way to do this is to rethink not just how your family does something (in this case spending time in front of a screen), but where. While time limits can seem arbitrary to kids, location is more tangible. Could the kitchen table be a “no screen zone”? What about bedrooms? Just as important, what are your family’s spaces where you can make screen time intentional and invited? Instead of focusing only on how much screen time kids should have, consider first asking where.
5. Get intentional about picking the right kinds of screens
Too often for parents, it can feel like there are only two options when it comes to technology habits and screen time: “anything goes” or “absolutely nothing.” But there’s a middle ground, and it’s especially true for those who start early.
Instead of banning screens, consider adopting truly kid-safe devices that are actually designed for kids – and maybe most of all, parents too. A simple, limited-functionality device, like this great kids smart watch option, can be the perfect starting point for kids ages 5-11, introducing healthy technology habits without all the unintended influences and addictive features that so often come with screens.
Another idea: go retro! Instead of banning video games for example, try finding an old NES or N64 system and make some good old Super Mario or Mario Kart action the go-to screen activity. You might find a much better conversation waiting when you tell your curious kids “we like the cool classic games in our family” instead of just “that’s not allowed.”
6. Go beyond “yes” or “no” and ask “why”
One tip you’ll often see is to make screen time a reward for doing other positive things like chores or homework. While that can absolutely be a positive and helpful approach, it can also make screen time the reward that helps to elevate its value in a kid’s mind.
You know that moment when your kid comes running to ask “can I have the [insert device]?” or “can I play [insert game]?” One idea we love is to take the moment and ask a simple question: why? Instead of only encountering rules, a child is given a moment to consider what they want and why they want it.
In many cases, that moment may be a great opportunity to disconnect boredom from screen time. It also gives parents the opportunity to redirect the screen time focus from simple stimulation to something educational. The subtle message over time: screens are places we go to learn not tune out.
7. Enforce Screen Time Limits
Out of sight is often out of mind. For this reason, it is a great idea to store your family devices out of sight when they are not in use.
The TechDen offers a physical home that charges and stores our kids’ phones and tablets out of sight and locked away. Storing devices in The Den helps kids establish a new mindset of unavailability so they aren’t tempted to peek at notifications every 5 minutes.
You have to stick to your rules. Sure, you might make an exception when there is a change in schedules but for the most part, everyone complies better and feels better when they understand that the rules are not up for debate. When kids know their whining gets them nowhere, they won’t waste their energy.
A Benefit of Limits Is That It Helps Kids Learn To Manage Their Own Screen Time
If your child understands that they can have a max of one hour on weekdays and a max of three hours on weekends, for example, they will learn to manage their time better naturally. Children need a schedule, even over the summer, it helps them establish routine and learn to manage their time. (See my printable after school schedule and summer schedule.)
So for example, if they know that they can have one hour of screen time, they can decide when to use the screen time and how to manage it- all at once or with breaks between. This frees you up from them asking if they can watch this or play that for just a little longer. They get to decide but they will also know when time is up, it is up.
Healthier Screen Habits Matter
We all know that kids are developing habits and habits often lead to life long effects. If they can learn to manage their time wisely now, it will pay off when you aren’t there to do it for them. A friend’s college aged child once told me that he dropped out of college because there was no one there to make him get off the video games and he was missing classes and flunked out. Major fail. Kids need to learn to be responsible for the way they spend their time now.