Since students are getting cell phones younger and younger, it’s easy to fall into the habit of having excessive screen time. Whether it’s toddlers playing with their parent’s tablet or teenagers keeping up their Snapchat streaks, excessive screen time can happen at any age. So, how can parents handle excessive screen time or help their younger kids avoid it entirely?
We asked 7 experts to share their best tips for managing and preventing excessive screen time for children of all ages.
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1. Limit the screen time needed for school work by visiting the library frequently
Lucy Harris, Hello Baby Bump
I limit my children to 1 hour of leisure screen time and I use a timer to ensure limits are enforced. When it comes to school work, I understand that they may need technology but I will try to limit that as much as possible by going to the library, so they can get what they need from books.
Ensuring there are activities or hobbies your kids can enjoy also reduces their screen time because they will be more likely to go outside and play (instead of sitting in front of a screen because they’re bored).
Phones, laptops, tablets, etc are all charged at a charging station which is in our study. This prevents use and temptation of use while our kids are in bed, late at night, when boredom hits, etc.
2. Try establishing screen time limits early
Josh Ochs, SmartSocial.com
Try establishing screen time limits before giving your children their first cell phone. It’s easier to help children develop a healthy relationship with technology when they don’t have the temptation to answer every incoming text message or keep up their Snapchat streaks. Although it’s easier to establish boundaries with younger students, it’s never too late to implement new rules if your child has excessive screen time. If your child is older, consider creating a social media safety contract that outlines the new screen time regulations you are setting. Go through the contract with your child and explain why each rule is being established.
3. Integrate screen time naturally without it becoming a dependency
James Easley, Epic Adventures
First things first, technology is not the enemy. Technology plays an important part in our lives and will play an integral role in our children’s futures. We need to see technology for what it is – a tool to use. And one that is most useful when balanced and integrated naturally, without it becoming a dependency.
So, how do we avoid excessive screen time?
First, we have to ask ourselves why children turn to it so readily and why it becomes so quickly addictive? Yes they’re looking for ‘entertainment’, but fundamentally they’re looking for challenges and stimulation. Their growing minds are curious and open to the world. They crave adventure, exploration, and play. And if we don’t provide an analog outlet for it, digital becomes the easier surrogate option.
To develop a healthy relationship with technology, we need to look at these aspects:
A. Positive digital usage
There are many tools, services, and platforms that use digital in a manner that is productive for young minds. Time spent with tools that help children grow intellectually, creatively, or compassionately should not be restricted, unless it starts to become imbalanced. Also, don’t forget that digital and real-world activities don’t have to be separate. For example, you can use a digital encyclopedia to recognise fossils while exploring on the beach.
B. Digital offset
However, if your child’s screen usage feels like it’s gotten out of hand (for whatever reason), make sure they offset it with some real-world activities. Spend time together as a family, indoors or outdoors, meet with friends, go for walks, plan a family camping trip, play games that don’t require screens (like board games or cards).
The key is being mindful of the time spent looking at screens and how you’ve spent it.
5. Screen time limits depend on your child’s age
Janice Robinson-Celeste, Successful Black Parenting Magazine
Screen time has received a bad rap because parents too often use screens as a babysitter, which is not recommended. Screen time for babies under the age of one should be avoided. As they grow to be a toddler, parents should limit screen time to educational concepts for children. As an early childhood specialist, I have seen children learn concepts like colors, numbers (counting to 10), and even spelling short words because they have learned it while watching educational videos. Parents should reinforce learning with books and toys. Again, at no time should screen time be a babysitter but should be a time where the parents are interacting with their children via the screen to help them understand what they are seeing.
At no time should children be left to their own accord with a screen. Even with the recent unfounded Momo Internet scare, parents who are not watching can not control what video plays next automatically. They should be present.
YouTube is the biggest video search engine in the world. There is a Kids YouTube that is somewhat safer for children to use and it is available through an app for iOS and Android. I highly recommend using that instead. However, there is no safety substitute for an involved parent.
Screen time recommendations, under age 1 = zero screen time; ages 2 to 3 = 30 minutes per day max; ages 4 to 6 = up to an hour a day max; school-age children and teens vary depending on their schedule and school workload.
Never have a computer or screen in another room, like a child’s bedroom, where it cannot be monitored. Keep the desktop computer in a central shared space where a parent can easily view what the child is watching. Older teens often have smartphones and it is difficult to monitor what they are watching. Parents can easily look at their browsing history to see what they’ve watched online on YouTube or on Google. Be sure to check.
5. Create a structure for your child’s screen time
Lindsay Walker, Launch Code After School
Structure technology time, set reasonable limits and share what the purpose of screen time is to your kids. Emphasize educational tools. Share with your kids apps and games that have learning and child development in mind.
Teach skills that help your children analyze information sources. Educate kids to be informed readers and how to tell if sources are reliable or not. Lastly, encourage your kids to learn real engineering and to develop programming skills.
6. Enforce boundaries with social media use and texting
Justin Lavelle, BeenVerified
Publications such as Psychology Today have written that although some time on social media can be beneficial for a child, excessive media use can damage their mental health. Consequently, 60-90 minutes a day has been the suggested time parents should allow their children to be connected. The other hours can be occupied with spending time with friends, playing sports, school work, and spending time with their family.
Tips to Help You Manage Your Child’s Screen Time:
- Use parental controls. Parental controls exist on nearly every smartphone. Some phones, like Apple iPhones, have parental controls built-in that are easily enabled. Although this doesn’t give you the option to restrict your child’s access to non-Apple apps, you can restrict their ability to download new apps. For Android phones, restrictive apps are available such as Kids Zone or Kids Place. Both allow your child access to only apps that have been approved by you. Still, other services such as Net Nanny give parents the option of customizing restrictions, such as creating time limits, tracking their child’s calls, and monitoring their social media usage.
- Enforce a “no cell phone policy” at bedtime. A child’s quality and quantity of sleep each night influences their behavior and performance in school the following day. Allowing them to have their cell phone in their room at bedtime will only create a window for them to engage in nonproductive activities such as texting their friends on hours at end. One way to avoid this is to have every family member, you included, put their cell phones in one location for overnight charging. That way, you are also modeling behavior in terms of cell phone habits.
- Enforce a “no cell phone policy” at school. Although many schools have adopted a cell phone policy for their school, it doesn’t stop children from breaking it. Using their cell phones in school is a learning distraction. In addition, some kids use their phones to cheat. The easiest solution is to have your child hand over their cell phone, in the morning, before school. For parents who prefer that their children have their cell phones on them so that they can communicate with them immediately after school, enforce a limited number of texts and/or phone calls. Tell your child that they can text or call only you and that you will be checking their phone records.
- Enforce a “no cell phone policy” during important family times. Family time can consist of anything from family meals to outings. Family time should be designed to have family members interacting in a meaningful way. If your child is endlessly texting at the dinner table, and you’re constantly being interrupted by the sound of a message entering their inbox, that’s a recipe for a hostile situation. Depending on the age of your child, decide what you can tolerate regarding cell phone use during these times. Younger kids can leave their cell phones at home during a family day trip. For older kids, you may want to allow them the option of bringing their phones on a long car ride.
7. When screen time is regulated well, it can be a tool
Eileen Choo, Practicle
Some parents avoid screen time like the plague, but screen time, if controlled well, is not all bad! More often than not, it is because we are letting our kids use their screen time on the wrong things. But it is actually easy to make use of screen time to good effect, if we just follow these simple tips!
Encourage your kids to earn their rights to screen time. Teach them that if they want something, they need to put in effort to earn it. For example, they will need to do an hour of homework before they can get an hour of screen time. You know your child best, so set reasonable limits.
Let your kids use technology to improve their lives. Instead of Facebook, install Quora. Instead of Tik Tok, let them watch riddle videos on Youtube. Teach them how to use apps as tools that can help them take notes or even create their own blog. Together, learn how to use their phones to take photos of their achievements or adventures.
Any content that gives them value is good time spent on a screen. If your kids love animals, how about beautifully filmed documentaries? If your kids love animations, why not watch some non-computer animated movies which often teach good life values? Even if your kids just love watching TV shows, you can let them watch foreign films and expose them to different cultures from a young age. For every bad piece of content, there’s a good one!
While it may be easier to prevent excessive screen time by helping your children develop healthy habits from a young age, it’s never too late to help your child overcome negative behaviors. When parents help their children find offline activities they’re passionate about, alternatives to screen time, and enforce boundaries children begin to self-regulate their screen time.
How do you avoid excessive screen time with your kids? Let us know in the comments below!