These days kids are growing up in a world full of screens. Everywhere they turn, there is a phone, television, computer, or iPad nearby, ready and waiting. While screens sometimes provide worthwhile activities for children, too much screen time is often not a good thing. Know how to limit screen time for your tech-loving family effectively and argument-free.
Create a Screen Time Plan as a Family
If you've noticed that your kids never seem to have their eyes anywhere but on a screen, it might be high time to reduce screen-related activities. How do you do that without starting a family war? Nobody likes when something undesirable is sprung on them, so try introducing the screen time reduction and limitations calmly during a family meeting. When creating some limitations for screens, get everyone's input and thoughts on the matter. Kids are more likely to follow a plan when they help contribute to its creation.
During your meeting, brainstorm ideas on limiting the use of screens in your home. Use this family meeting to explain why you are initiating screen time reduction. While new parameters will have to be discussed and reinforced for some time, as all new routines should, this initial meeting serves as a space to plant the seeds of limitations and gather input from everyone in the home.
Stay Consistent With Screen Time Rules
Laying down the law with screen time is no different from enforcing other rules and routines within your home. Be sure to:
- Be clear and consistent with your screen expectations.
- Provide clear consequences for when children refuse the new screen-related rules.
- Stay consistent! If you allow screen use in bedrooms occasionally (when you have a rule that no screen use is allowed in bedrooms), it won't be long before that limitation goes right out the window.
- Remain calm when kids revolt. It will happen! The kids will try to push the screen time boundaries because pushing boundaries is what kids do! Stay calm and concise in your rules and expectations. Arguments require two active participants, so refuse to engage.
Establish Screen-Free Zones and Times
You pop into your kid's room, and they are on their phone. You walk into the rec room and the television is blaring. When you sit down to dinner, personal devices show up so often; you might as well set a space at the table for them amongst your family members.
This is no bueno, and an indication that you should create some screen-free zones in your home, and times during the day when screen use is prohibited. Make it known that bedrooms are screen-free areas, as are dining spaces. When families dine together regularly, they are able to connect and communicate effectively. Screens can hinder the benefits of eating as a family, so choose to make mealtime a screen-free zone. You might also designate the thirty minutes before bedtime a screen-free time so you can enjoy classic books together, and ban the use of screens in the morning, as they can distract children from completing their morning routines.
Parents can choose one day of the week where screens are not permitted. Try a Screen-Free Sunday or an Unplug Friday Night. The idea might go over like a lead balloon at first, but with advanced notice of the change, consistency in the screen-free routine, and plenty of alternative activities to engage in, kids will catch on quickly.
Provide Alternative Screen-Free Family Activities for Kids
The screen time family meeting has come and gone. The rules, expectations, and boundaries have been set, and you have committed to staying true to the course. Now you have to fill all of this new time in the family schedule with something other than screens! Prepare to provide your children with engaging alternative activities that do not involve screens.
Try getting everyone outdoors for some fun games or setting up cool science experiments that will get kids learning. Entertain kids by playing board games together, building fun forts, or navigating amazing obstacle courses as a team. The key is to provide plenty of activity options and let kids have some authority over what they choose to do in lieu of spending time on screens.
Consider Allowing Screen Time as a Privilege
Some families find that making screen time a privilege and not a right works best. For this strategy, you need to explain to kids that specific responsibilities or tasks must be completed before screens can be utilized. Different chores bear varying weight, and kids can earn an array of screen time for completing chores in the home.
Families don't have to focus solely on chores. They can request that kids take care of their mind and body before hopping on personal devices. The technique puts the ability to use screens firmly in children's hands. If they do what they are expected to do, then they can be on devices or watch television. If they choose not to do what they need to, they are forgoing their right to screens. Some ways for kids to earn screen time might be:
- Complete all homework assignments or studying tasks in a day
- Walk and feed the family pet
- Tidy up their room
- Go outside and get at least 30 minutes of fresh air
- Do a craft or something artistic
- Read or free-write for 20 minutes
- Put away their laundry
Parents can utilize simple yet effective screen time charts to keep track of what kids do in a day to earn their screen time.
Teach Mindful Screen Use
Make screen use mindful. So often, kids and adults alike use screens as a mind-numbing or background noise filling activity. Put a stop to this. If kids are watching a television show or movie, then they should not also have their smartphone in their hands. Don't allow people in your household to leave televisions or devices running to create background noise, and never let kids leave them on as they fall asleep.
When your family is gathering to play a card game, watch a movie or attend a sibling's sporting event, be sure to leave personal devices in cars or purses so you can give your time together unidivided and mindful attention.
Turn Screen Time Limits Into a Family Competition
Kids love a good challenge and a bit of family competition. Create a family challenge around minimizing screen time use. Can the kids go all morning without a screen? What about all evening? See who can stay off of their screen for the longest amount of time within 24 hours, and reward the winner with something special.
Loosen Up the Screen Time Rules Once a Month
Consider rewarding your family for their hard work to minimize screen use, by loosening up the rules once a month. Don't feel as if you need to allow your kids to play video games all day, but you can try playing screen-based games that the entire family can engage in, or hold a family movie marathon while snuggled up on the couch.
Be a Role Model by Reducing Your Own Screen Time
Parents, it helps to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If you want your kids to reduce their screen use, take a long, hard look in the mirror and make sure you follow your own rules. Is your phone always in your hand? Do you text while at the dinner table or scroll through social media during a family movie? If so, you'll have to be extra sure to reduce your own screen use so kids know that this is a family-wide initiative and everyone, adults included, are invested in the change.
Limit Screen Options So Your Kids Look Elsewhere for Entertainment
Not all screen activities and programs are equal! Some are mindless and not particularly enriching to children, while others have some true educational value. Be choosy with what you allow your kids to do on screens, and limit their options. Allow for toddler apps that will encourage vocabulary and language-building skills, or choose specific games that are both fun and educational for children.
It's important to note that kids will likely tire more quickly of games and apps when you limit their screen-based options. When they don't have free rein to surf YouTube or social media all day long, they may just set their device down and find something else to do.
Decrease Screen Time to Improve Well-Being
Limiting screen time is certainly something that all parents should consider. Excessive use of digital devices and screens has been linked to:
- A decrease in academics and test scores
- Sleep problems: overuse of screens can affect a child's sleep duration
- An increase in childhood obesity
When you share reasons such as these with your older kids and teens, they'll understand the 'why' behind your plan to reduce screen use and boost their overall health.
Work Toward a Screen-Free Life
Lifestyle changes aren't always easy to implement. Expect some bumps in the road as you navigate this new screen-reduced policy in your home. Remember to continuously explain WHY you are reducing screen time, and stay consistent in your rules and expectations regarding screens. Over time, fewer eyeballs on screens may result in more time spent as a family, connecting, communicating, and simply enjoying one another's company.