I’m writing this blog about how to reduce your kids’ screen time, and I’ve been thinking about my own experiences at the same time. As I write, I realise that this subject is one that probably causes a few anxious moments from parents – and grandparents – but don’t panic. Setting rules for kids can always be a bit traumatic but once you bed in the rules, like anything else you’ll find that it starts to produce positive effects.
So, what are the negatives that can affect our children if we let their screen time get out of hand?
- They can suffer serious withdrawal symptoms.
- They can become easily distracted by gadgets, or even obsessed with their devices.
- They can lose interest in other areas of life, concentrating of their beloved screen.
- They can develop mood swings and find it hard to control their emotions.
- They can develop behavioural problems at home, school and socially.
Before I started writing, I took a serious look at my own behaviour and I realised that I too need to take responsibility for this problem in my own family. I gave them the opportunity to start using gadgets, this was my choice. It’s now my responsibility to make that we use our gadgets in the right way and we don’t overdo it. I realise that using screens and gizmos doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but we do need to control their use and make sure we don’t encourage our loved ones to become solitary.
Nino’s screen time strategy
I’ve been researching the subject, trying to develop a pro-active strategy that keeps kids screen time a positive thing and doesn’t let it become a problem. Children love and look up to their parents, and it’s only natural that they will want to copy them – so it starts with you!
Children and screens – Nino’s Four point plan
- Lead by example – don’t spend too much time on your screens in front of the children. If they see you chained and prisoner to your own screen, it’s very difficult to tell them to put their gadgets away. It’s important to create boundaries.
- Designate one area of the house as the place where they use their screen gadgets. Set a rule that if your child tries to leave the agreed area with their gadget, they must pass it to you and not carry it around.
- Keep a check on the amount of time they spend glued to their screens. Time can run away very quickly, and a few hours could pass in one sitting if you don’t keep an eye on what the kids are up to.
- I don’t recommend that children under school age use screen gadgets. I know for some parents that idea might cause panic, but I honestly believe that children of this age should be developing through other sensatory experiences and stimuli.
Recommended screen times for children
The UK government has recently backtracked on its 2008 guidance that ‘children should be exposed to technology and computers from a very young age’, but there are currently no medical or governmental guidelines on screen time in the UK.
The advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is that children should have TV-free days, or have two-hour limits on the time spent in front of screens. In the US the American Academy of Paediatrics lays down specific recommendations;
- Screen Free Zones
The AAP recommends that parents should set clear ‘screen-free’ zones at home, and recommend that there are no televisions, computers or video games in children’s bedrooms.
- Two-hours maximum
The AAP makes a distinction between using screens in the classroom and at home, and suggests that children (that includes teenagers) should be limited to two hours’ maximum of screen-based ‘entertainment media’ per day. They also recommend that parents make sure they are engaging with ‘high-quality content’, which is easier said than done as the kids get older. Remember though, you are the parent.
- No screens under two years of age
Recent UK reports of under twos becoming addicted to their screens bears this one out, and although I would go even further and restrict the screen until school age, the AAP say that television, the internet and other screen-based media (including smartphones) should be completely banned for infants and children under the age of two.
I would go further than the AAP and suggest that there are certain times gadgets should be banned. That includes parents!
- Breakfast time
- Lunch time
- Dinner time
- The period running up to bed time
- Social environments like restaurants and family occasions
Earning screen time
You can use the idea of earning screen time, giving kids bonus screen time if they behave well, show kindness to others, or work hard at school. On the flip side, we can explain that if they don’t behave in a positive way, their screen privileges will be removed.
You could try using ScreenLimit which lets parents remotely manage their children’s screen time from a smartphone, tablet or web browser. Each child has a daily time limit and they can switch between multiple devices on the same timer. Children can earn extra screen time by completing set tasks (cleaning room, making bed) as well as being penalised for misbehaving. You can try it for free and then buy for £2.99 per month. A family subscription covers up to ten children on unlimited devices.
It can be hard for parents and grandparents to stay disciplined when it comes to screen use; time over, means time over! Children must learn that fluttering their eye lids, cute smiles, screaming, stomping or having a hissy fit will not work. If our children have vice like grips on their beloved screens, it’s our job to ensure that we loosen it – one way or the other!
How do you deal with the ‘screen time’ issue?