Are you an active member of the Screen Police Force in your home?
Many of us are.
Phones, tablets, gaming systems – the devices are ubiquitous. Our kids LOVE them, and it’s easy to find yourself in a constant battle over what a reasonable amount of screen time is.
And if you’re anything like me, you can add a healthy serving of guilt and worry about how all that screen time might be affecting our kids too. Let’s find some answers!
The Screens – They’re Everywhere!
If I had my way, my kids would only eat organic, whole foods and play with wooden Melissa & Doug toys. They would enjoy a healthy homemade snack having completed some other wholesome activity involving natural fibers and sunbeams.
But let’s get real. While some families do manage to keep their kids’ lives untainted by modern and commercial influences, that hasn’t been the way for us.
Our kids spend time with new people, learn new things, eat new foods. I’m learning that my job is to help them navigate the world in a balanced and responsible way, rather than trying to keep out all the external influences.
When it comes to screens specifically, we have to face up to the fact that technology is a part of our children’s future. They are using iPads in school, there’s tablets on restaurant tables, and honestly – they see Mom looking at her phone for recipes, music and entertainment (guilty!)
Also, my kids’ screen time give me a fighting chance of sleeping past 6:30am on Saturday morning, so let’s not get too hasty about ditching the devices completely, mkay?
How Much Screen Time is Acceptable?
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued new recommendations in 2016 stating kids aged 2 to 5 years old should have screen time limited to 1 hour per day, and consistent limits should be placed on kids aged 6 and older.
Like many things in life though, it might not be as simple as that. It may be just as important to monitor your child’s relationship with their device, not only the amount of time they’re spending on it.
“What matters most is whether screen use causes problems in other areas of life or has become an all-consuming activity” says Sarah Domoff, lead author in a study carried out by University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development.
If their screen time is causing conflict within your family, if they are constantly preoccupied with it, if it’s the only thing that seems to calm them down or make them happy, then it might be time to evaluate their digital diet and implement a structured to plan to manage their device time more carefully.
Sometimes that’s easier said than done though, right? Well thankfully there are lots of creative ideas out there that can reduce some of the policing parents have to do, and help your child build a healthy relationship with their devices.
The Token System
A token system requires your child to earn their screen time rather than it being the first thing they reach for when they wake up. This causes them to view their device time as a privilege rather than as a right (and not something they get to be on all day, every day.)
For example, you must read for 10 minutes or tidy your room and make your bed to earn 10 minutes of screen time. Once this has become routine, it should take away the arguments about device time (as well as about getting chores done).
If you’re crafty you can create tokens yourself – or check out The Creative Mom for a free printable.
If you want something more durable, then Amazon has this quality Time Token pack, and it comes with a timer!
Your kids will learn the value of managing their time, and working for something they want.
Designated Screen Times
Designated screen times are a simple way to limit screen time that’s easy for your children to follow and straightforward for you to implement. This could be as simple as having alternating days when devices are allowed or not. This will help your child establish healthy habits around device use.
No devices at meal time is a good one for the whole family. This infographic from Pixel Pounds provides 6 sensible guidelines that can be implemented in your home.
And just as I talked about in this post about us adults getting a good night’s sleep, it’s also important for kids to limit their screen time directly before bed – cutting them off an hour before will help with the transition to bedtime and falling asleep easily.
Install Parental Control Apps
Sometimes you just have to fight fire with fire, friends. It can be hard to keep track of how much time your children are spending on devices over the week (and what they might be doing/watching/playing).
So why not use technology to your advantage? Installing a parental control app on your home devices will allow you to monitor and manage usage for as little as a dollar month.
An app like FamilyTime works on iPhone, iPad and Android devices and allows you to limit the times of day when the device can be used.
You can use these tools to view reports on usage times and on which apps are being accessed. Not only that, you can block apps, track location, and a whole host of other tools. Many of these are features that are especially useful with older kids.
DigitalTrends provides a rundown of some of the best apps for your child’s smartphone right here.
Other Resources For Parents
I spoke to Betsey Sturgis, a professional teacher who established a Digital Citizenship program for school systems.
Betsey shared a great website for parents and educators: commonsensemedia.org. Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in today’s technology and media-rich culture, and many questions you might have as a parent are answered here.
She provided one suggestion of her own that works great for older kids: “A fun one is to change the Wifi password. Create a chore list for kids and if they want ‘The Wifi Password Of The Day’, they must complete x, y, and z.”
If you feel like you need help managing an aspect of your child’s digital life, Betsey is also available for private consultations.
If you’re interested in learning more about the impacts of screen time and ways to manage it within your family, here are some well-rated books to dive into: