Managing your child’s screen time is about how to control how your child uses their digital devices, not forbidding them entirely. “It’s not how long we’re using screens that really matters; it’s how we’re using them and what’s happening in our brains in response,” says Michael Rich, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. One of the main aims of parenting is to prepare your children for when they leave home. So, as with most things, screen time management is to help them learn how to manage their own screen time as they grow up so it will change as they grow up. Prof. Rich continues, “We don’t want to be in a moral panic because kids are staring at smartphones. We need to be asking, what’s happening when they’re staring at their smartphone in terms of their cognitive, social, and emotional development? As with most things, it will probably be a mix of positive and negative. Going forward with our eyes open, how can we enhance the positive and mitigate the negative?”
Screen time management is something I feel passionately about with my son. He could easily spend hours every day playing games. When he was younger, there were tantrums and the like. However, I have gone very much for the educational approach. We have clear boundaries. 2 hours a day at weekends. These are important, so although we don’t cancel anything to ensure this, we do talk about our day’s plans and fit them in. I also am happy to speak to him about what he does. We have an ethos that playing computer games is not bad. Just when it becomes all he can think about, it might be time for a break. We talk openly about screen addiction and he can relate to it. He can now self-regulate and will sometimes decide for himself to have a week off. In this article, you’ll learn how to manage your child’s screen time effectively. A good nights sleep is essential for many aspects of a child’s wellbeing.
How Parents Can Manage Screen Time Better
Below are steps to help you manage your child’s screen time better.
- Figure out your goals. Your screen time management should tie into your overall vision for your child. Most parents are trying to raise tech-savvy, healthier, self-aware, open-minded, tolerant, creative, and well-read children in this era. If you’re one such parent, it might not be enough to simply restrict your child’s screen time. Instead, you’d want to further redirect their attention to where you want it when they’re away from the screen, whether that’s to books, sports, physical human interaction, unstructured time, or just playing outside in a natural environment. Your vision for your child will also inform what comes before screen time, content to interact with during their screen time, which technologies to make off-limits, and when the child is allowed to use specific devices.
- Determine how much screen time is too much. The next thing you need to determine is: how much screen time is too much? It’s clear that technology contributes positively to a child’s development and integration into the real world in such a digital era. So managing screen time is no longer about keeping your child away from the screen as much as possible. Doing that might have some downsides. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents discourage screen media for children under eighteen months. While children older than two years should get no more than 1 hour or less per day of high-quality tv programming. Older children can get 2 hours per day. It is important to appreciate that not all screen time is equal. Watching two hours of YouTube videos of Minecraft is not the same as programming a Blackberry Pie in Python. Be clear about what you are limiting. For me, it is unproductive screen usage. This is backed up by recent research from Oxford University.
- Explain why you’re limiting screen time. As with most discipline, the best thing to do is make it a conversation. Has your child realized that they are upset when you tell them to come off or that they can’t sleep straight after? These are important learning opportunities that will help your child self-manage as they get older. If they realize this, it will make things easier. As a parent, you know why you’re limiting screen time. But your child may have no idea why you’re doing it, especially if they’re young. This lack of communication leaves room for assumption. The child may take it that you’re just being mean or authoritative for the sake of it. This can prompt the child to resist, creating unnecessary friction. However, if you take the time to explain why you’re limiting screen time, the child will most likely be more cooperative. During the discussion, explain the harmful effects of spending too much time on screens.
- Provide notification toward the end of screen time. Don’t just hover around, waiting to take the device from your child at the end of their screen time. This makes it too unexpected and might make the child crave more time, leading to tantrums. Besides, the child might be doing something they’re yet to save on the device. So it’s better to announce it as the child’s screen time winds down. You might say, “Hey sweetheart, you have five more minutes on the iPad.” Also, check with the child to know if there’s anything they want you to save after taking the device away.
- Decide the consequences of breaking screen time rules. Ensuring that there are consequences is how you successfully enforce screen time. But make sure your child knows about those consequences. Spell them out clearly. Consequences can range from loss of privileges to loss of allocated screen time. Enforce these consequences consistently.
- Getting the positives out of screen time. To get the positives out of screen time, you need to make deliberate efforts. Encourage your child to use their screen time to pursue their interests, not just play video games all the time. For example, a child who loves animals would hardly oppose watching nature documentaries during their screen time, as long as you provide the channels and encourage it. Secondly, you can participate in their screen time if you have the chance. Some educational games allow two or more players to play. Not only would you get to bond over these games, but you’d also get to influence what the child does during their screen time. In addition, actively encourage other activities like going outside, reading a book, having conversations, going to sports events, and so on.
Final Thoughts on Screen Time Management
Managing your child’s screen time might seem like an ongoing battle. However, firstly think about how you role model screen time. Then realize that not all screen time is the same. Finally, it has to be a process of educating them to manage their own screen time. Make clear, unambiguous boundaries about time on X-boxes, etc. However, let them make mistakes. Don’t be too harsh. Mobile phone apps are made to be addictive, and that is how companies make money. Therefore, like alcohol, your child needs the skills to survive when they leave home and realize this. At the early stages however, there are settings that can be altered on their phone to help them develop good behaviors. If you think it has become an issue we offer guidance here on how to break screen addiction.