Screentime. It’s a modern parent’s big dilemma. Sure, there are tons of learning games, apps, and DVDs out there for kids of all ages, and that’s great. You’ve also got the parental controls on lock across all your platforms-- this isn’t the wild west, after all. Still, though, it just doesn’t feel quite right to let a 5 year old luxuriate in front of the T.V. or iPad when the weather outside is so nice. And by the thousandth rendition of The Wiggles’ theme song, you know it’s just plain wrong.
It all starts out innocent enough-- shoving your phone or iPad into your child’s hands, because you need some peace and quiet so you can just get the kitchen picked up, or have a quiet meal with your spouse in a restaurant, or just not answer the question “why” for the rest of the car ride. Before we know it, though, our kids are tumbling down the same path we have: screen addiction.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child under 6 spends two hours daily on screens. Once a child hits 8-18, that time balloons to nearly 8 hours days (including computer/video games, phone use, social media, actual T.V., etc., and not including schoolwork). The side effects of too much T.V. are well known and many, including aggressive behavior, increased risk for obesity, and lethargy.
Here are 5 tips to help you manage your family’s time plugged in:
1. Use an app to keep track. You can’t have eyes everywhere. You go to work, and what’s your babysitter letting the kids do? Or maybe your kiddo wants to watch Frozen… again, and again, and again. Back to back. Why!? How!? Adult minds will never know. There are many apps to help you keep tabs on your family members’ screen time. We like Moment because it sort of makes it a game by letting all family members see everyone’s screen time and keeping ‘score.’ It also has a ‘Family Dinner’ mode that anyone in the family can activate to keep everyone’s phone dark for a set a period- e.g. family movie, actual dinner, the commute home from school, etc. Giving some of the power to your kids helps them feel involved, rather than dictated to. For the T.V., we recommend BOB, which comes with such fabulous reviews as “I love it as much as my kids hate it!”
2. For little kiddies, steer them toward low-tech toys. Sure, there are a hundred cool apps that claim to teach your 3-year-old Japanese or coding, but they’ll have a much richer experience in those fields if their brain develops a natural, playful curiosity about the world around them first. In short, let kids be kids. Toddlers don’t need tech. If your toddler must get a jump on a second language, put them in a class!
3. Here’s a ‘quick tip’ you probably won’t love- be the change you wish to see in the world. Kids mimic behavior, so set the example. Ask the kids to walk the dog with you, suggest you all leave your phones at home. Collect everyone’s phones in a basket when you get home from work, and put them in a closet until morning (or your kids’ bedtime.)
4. No screens in bedrooms! That means iPads, TVs, phones, computers, etc. All electronics must be checked in at the end of the day! Unplugging a few hours before bed encourages quality sleep since the glow from electronics tends to fool your brain into thinking it’s daytime. Of course, this is also aces for your child’s online safety-- no need to surf the world wide web behind closed doors.
5. Find a reason to get out of the house each day. Summer classes, trips to local pools and swimming holes, arts & crafts-- there are endless possibilities. Some days, it will just be grocery shopping for a couple hours, and that’s ok. It doesn’t all have to be fun and games. Assign a chore daily during the summer, with the expectation that it’s complete by the time you get home from work. Adding structure to school-free days will natural combat screen time. Afterall, it’s hard to scroll through facebook when you’re pulling weeds in the garden.
Limiting screen time is a constant, ongoing challenge for parents. Add it to the list, right? Especially as kids get older, and make friends with different rules (“Avery’s mom let’s her watch all the T.V. she wants! Even rated R movies!” Great. Thanks Avery’s mom.), it gets more difficult. Just remember, it’s your home, your broadband connection, and your rules. At some point, you will find yourself saying something along the lines of “I’m not here to be your best friend, I’m here to be your parent,” and that’s OK. Adopt that as your mantra. They’ll thank you when they’re older.