Screen time. I'm dating myself, but that wasn't even a thing when I was growing up. We watched TV. That was our only screen for about the first half of my childhood. Later, there was Atari, the Commodore 64, and some hand held games that didn't even have screens, just lights that would represent a baseball game or something similar.
Fast forward to present day and between amazingly realistic video games, social media, a myriad of TV and movie choices, and pretty much an unlimited supply of information, screens are part of almost every aspect of life. Kids have constant entertainment and information at their fingertips, and they love it. Frankly, so do I! However, we must fight the good fight for balance and good judgment in regard to digital media consumption - for ourselves and for our children.
Below are a few ideas for limiting screen time. Some are based on expert recommendations and some are simply insights from parents. Hopefully, they will help you to find the right balance of screen time in your home.
Review the American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendations (Source)
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
I look at these recommendation as ideals. Something to work towards, but not something to hold to rigidly every single day. For example, when my oldest was a baby he slept in 10 minute increments and spent the rest of the day fussily dealing with severe acid reflux. Literally the only 30 minutes a day I could count on for a little peace was when I strapped him into his bouncy seat and turned on a Baby Einstein video. Ideal? Probably not. Necessary for survival? Definitely. And I'm not sure how many four year olds were going to wait until they were six to watch Frozen or Moana in one sitting so they could stay within the 1 hour recommendation.
Create a Family Media Plan
Visit healthychildren.org to create a family media plan based on the American Academy of Pediatricians guidelines. It is super important to do this with your children. The site provides you with a great structure for discussing and coming to a consensus on topics such as screen free zones, screen free times, device curfews, media choices, media diversification, balancing screen time with offline time, and digital citizenship.
Be An Example of Healthy Screen Habits
We cannot expect our children and teens to have impeccable screen habits when ours are lacking. Remember we talked about creating a family media plan, not a child media plan. We need to follow the rules too. I recently had to remove a game from my phone. It was a simple puzzle game, but I found myself spending way too much time on it at the expense of other things I needed to do. I didn't seem to have the will power to just not play it so I ended up removing it from my phone. I made sure that my kids knew that I did this. Maybe somewhere down the line if they have the same situation, they will remember that just removing the distraction is a simple and effective solution.
Plan Family Activities That Don't Involve Screens
Digital life can be so fulfilling and its not going anywhere. We are kidding ourselves if we think that technology is not going to play an ever expanding role in our lives. But non digital activities aren't going anywhere either. You can still play card or board games with actual cards and boards. You can still get outdoors for a bike ride, hike, or swim. As parents we must provide opportunities for our children and teens to interact with the actual world not just the virtual one. And don't forget to get them involved in the planning. The goal is that they will continue these types of activities even after we have less influence in their lives.
Remember, It's Not Just About Time
Especially with older children and teens, it can be tricky to set a hard and fast time limit. They often use computers to complete and even turn in homework assignments. I have a teenaged son that takes music lessons online and whose hobby is video editing. He will typically get more time on screens during a given day than my other son that mostly uses his screen time to play video games.
Strive for Balance
Children and teens should have a healthy and varied balance of activities in their lives. Are their studies going well? Do they fill their free time with a variety of activities? Is their social development on track? Do they participate in physical activities? If the answer to any of these questions is "no", you may want to look at making some adjustments.
Don't Give Up
It will probably take some trial and error to find what works for your family, but keep at it and make adjustments as needed.
We would love to hear some of your suggestions for promoting healthy screen habits. Please share in a comment.