Perhaps you know this scenario: an exhausted parent enters the kitchen to prepare dinner after running errands or working at the office or doing the 1,006 things it takes for the household to run smoothly. The parent reaches for the TV or the iPad to place in front of the kids – just to provide a short breather while dinner is being prepared. Before you know it, 15 minutes has morphed into an hour and the kids are clamoring for more.
What’s an exhausted parent to do? Reach for that glass of wine and enjoy another 30 minutes of silence or turn off the screen and listen to keening wails of ‘It’s not fair?’
First things first – it’s your house and I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I can tell you that I've been in your shoes and I understand the struggle of setting rules for screen time and trying to find the perfect mix of quality family time AND quality screen time.
As an Internet Safety Advocate and Digital Parenting Coach, my friends and colleagues think I have the inside track on what to do and not do as my little boys forge ahead on the digital adventure. I will let you in a little secret: while I have many of the answers – thanks to great resources such as Common Sense Media (age appropriate games, apps and movies), Pew Internet (research on children and technology), EU KidsOnline (European research on children and technology), NetFamilyNews (timely articles on the latest tech news) – I do not have THE answer to that problem that probably began with those early color televisions of the 1960’s: Family Time vs Screen Time and how to set rules.
But you’re in luck, because after speaking to parents and researching best practices, I do have several tips and guidelines for parents (and I even included some that work for me!)
1. Doctor recommended screen limits: No screen time for children under 2 years old and 1 hour a day for children between 2-5 years old. For children over 5 years old – limit screen time to 2 hours a day.
2. Tally up the actual time spent on screens: Log that screen time on a screen time chart so that you can see where you need to act.
3. Proven medical benefits: Excellent reasons to turn off that TV, iPad or other screen: reduce obesity, increase regular sleep, limit behavioral problems, and increase academic performance. (Mayo Clinic)
4. Establish electronic curfews or blackouts: With younger kids, unplug the power strip and “Oh no, we have a blackout.” With older kids, you may want to try BreakTime (an app which allows you to put the Internet on hold on any device) or Time Out (a free app which allows you to program breaks on the computer). Or better yet, go tech-free Sundays or any other day that works for you.
5. Ways to limit screen time: Eliminate background TV, don’t eat in front of the TV, set school day rules and weekend rules, and talk with caregivers to ensure that the same rules are being applied. If your children are growing up in two households, ensure that the same rules are being applied in BOTH households.
6. Provide other alternatives to screens: Pick up a book with real pages, suggest outdoor activities, get on the floor and pull out that Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders board.
7. Set a good example yourself: No texting during dinner, no phone in your hand while driving, no smartphone obsessions or selfies every 30 seconds, etc.
8. Be an active participant: Plan what your child views, watch programs or play games with them, and comment on what you’re watching (more interactive).
9. Encourage active screen time: When they are in front of a screen, have them stretch or do yoga. When it’s a commercial or you take a break from the screen, challenge your kids to see who can do the most jumping jacks, hop on one foot, well you get the picture. (Mayo Clinic)
10. Create a family media agreement: Have everyone agree to the do’s and do not’s of media and technology use. Check out Good Digital Parenting's online safety contracts.
My last take-away, once you set those rules, be consistent and be sure to enforce them. Yes, it’s difficult, but know that you are not alone in the struggle. And if you have any tips for limiting screen time and increasing family time that work in your household, please be sure to share them.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.