Expert once recommended that parents should strictly limit screen time for children to an hour or two per day. That advice has changed. Experts now say it’s more important to ensure that your kids build a healthy relationship with electronic devices, rather than focusing on enforcing rigid rules. Instead of making hard and fast rules, parents should empower their kids to self-regulate when it comes to screen time, showing them how to make better, smarter choices in their consumption of media and entertainment.
So, how do you teach your children to self-regulate screen time? Here are some tips and guidelines you can use to help your child create a healthy relationship with the technology that has become such an essential part of our lives.
Be a Role Model
If you expect your children to learn to control their own screen time, you’re going to have to step away from the iPhone yourself. When it comes to screen time, there’s no substitute for setting a good example. Your kids learn by watching you, and most adults spend too much time starring at their own screens. It’s too easy to be a bad role model without realizing it, especially when you’re fighting deadlines, dealing with work pressures, and trying to keep up with friends.
Are you planning to set some boundaries for screen time? If so, you need to be an example of how those boundaries work in reality. For example, if you decide to keep meals or bedtime screen free, then you’ll need to model that behavior yourself. If possible, try to schedule time for the entire family to unplug once a day. You may be amazed to discover how even one hour without anyone zoning out to a screen can make a huge difference in the family dynamics. Remember, kids mirror your behavior – that’s the way they learn. So make sure you show them how you want them to use screens with your own example.
Think Quality, Not Just Quantity
It’s easy to simply focus on how much time your kids are spending with their various devices, but you should also consider the kinds of content they’re watching and interacting with.
“It’s all about how things are used. And how much they’re used. And what they’re used for,” says UCLA psychology professor Patricia Greenfield.
Many parents simply assume that the time their children are spending looking at a TV, tablet, or phone is a waste of time. However, screen time isn’t all the same. Kids may spend time watching silly cartoons, or they could be playing games that require problem solving skills or creativity. As kids grow older, they may use screen time to do research, get involved in hobbies, or to stay in touch with friends and family.
Pay attention to what your child is doing when they are using devices. Instead of setting hard and fast time limits on screen time, encourage kids to spend most of their time engaged in creative pursuits when they’re using screens. For example, learning to code video games or making their own videos.
Remember, not all programs, games, and apps are created equal. Use these tips to ensure your kids are getting quality screen time:
- Talk to your child about the apps, games, and programs they use
- Preview games, apps, and programs before allowing your child to play with or view them
- Look for interactive options that keep your child engaged
- Enjoy exploring new apps or playing a new video game together with your child
- Talk to your kids about the programming they’re watching
Keep Screen Time Positive
Parents should understand that screen time shouldn’t always be viewed negatively, and it’s important to keep that time as positive as possible.
“The environment of media has changed today,” notes Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, author of the Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report. “Many aspects of digital media are positive: it can be interactive it facilitates communication; it allows people to create.”
Many parents make the mistake of turning screen time into a restriction rather than an opportunity for discovery and learning (as well as a “teaching moment” to instill time management skills). Negative reinforcement rarely works well, and many kids will act indifferent when they are punished with the elimination of screen time. Instead of using it in a negative manner, try keeping it positive. Make it a reward for good behavior. Give your child a chance to practice good behavior in a way that earns more screen time.
Encourage Screen-Free Alternatives
You already know that your child needs more than just screen time – he needs time to interact with people and real-world play time. However, kids often gravitate to electronics because these devices are convenient. Take a look at your child’s environment. Are alternative options easily available to your child?
Make sure that other fun alternatives to electronic devices are easily accessible to your child. If you want your child to spend time without a screen in front of them, encourage good alternatives, such as playing a game, reading, playing with Legos, or even playing dress up. Ensure they have all these alternatives easily available. If their favorite toys are easy to access, they may spend more time playing with those toys instead of always gravitating towards a screen.
In today’s technology-drive society, most families find that hard and fast rules about screen time just don’t work. It’s time to start adapting to the world around us, teaching your child how to manage their own screen time. Use these tips and continue working with your kids to empower them to make the right choices, encouraging a lifetime of good screen habits.