We may have learnt a thing or two from our own parents when it comes to limiting TV time. But the number of screens and screen-related activities available to children these days has made it into a completely different ballgame.
Social media hasn’t been around for that long. But it now accounts for a huge amount of the time spent using screens. There are also online streaming services, gaming devices, tablets and laptops to contend with.
Screens can be addictive for both children and adults. And we know that children are never going to give up their screen time voluntarily.
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Is Excessive Screen Time Really A Problem?
Lots of research is being done into the effect screen time has on our youngsters. But there’s still debate as to how harmful it actually is.
Researchers at San Diego State University recently found that more than one hour a day of screen time was linked to lower psychological well-being amongst children aged two to 17.
In contrast, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) says they haven’t found enough evidence to suggest that screen time in itself is a problem for children.
Nevertheless the RCPCH does recognise that there is a worrying link between screen time, depression and obesity. And they’re encouraging parents to assess whether screen time in their home has an effect on any of the following:
- Eating more junk food and snacks
- Going to bed late and sleeping poorly
- Spending less time together as a family
All of these issues can have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of children.
You Decide the Limits
With little official guidance to follow, it’s up to parents to decide on how much screen time is appropriate for their family.
In the same way, we try to create healthy eating habits for our children. And get them to exercise. And encourage social interaction. We have to create our own guidelines around screen time.
Once you have an idea of what those screen limits need to be, here are a few actionable tips on how to impose them:
Lead by Example
How long do you spend on your smartphone or other devices? It’s likely to be more time than you think.
We absent-mindedly check the news or our emails or dive for our phone as soon as the message tone pings. This can all set a bad example for our kids.
Take a good long look at your own screen usage before imposing limits on your children. You need to lead by example if children aren’t going to feel short-changed.
If your children are a bit older, you can actually talk about the positives and negatives of screen time. And then discuss as a family how you can limit those negatives. That might mean banning devices from the dinner table and from bedrooms or avoiding certain social media platforms. On the other hand, it might be possible to use screen time as a family-bonding experience. Perhaps you can look for family-friendly video games that will allow all of you to play at the same time. It won’t necessarily restrict screen time, but it will help you turn it into something much more positive and beneficial.
Finally, you might like to come up with a family screen plan all together. Children usually get a kick out of imposing some screen restrictions on mom and dad.
Give Your Children Some Control
Decide on how much screen time is allowed. But then let your children choose between one TV program and another. Or let them decide whether to spend their allotted screen time watching clips on YouTube or chatting with their friends on social media.
Giving them choices will help them to feel happier and more in control.
It’s a bit of a no-brainer but provide your children with entertainment options that don’t involve screens.
Have books and games in the house. Arrange playdates and day trips. And maybe head out into nature every now and then – somewhere where screens (and phone signal) are harder to come by.
Avoid Introducing Unnecessary Devices
When there are fewer screens in the house, there will inevitably be less screen time. Avoid introducing devices until it’s absolutely necessary.
For instance, a child may need a mobile phone in order to contact you when they’re at an age to head out of the house independently. But do they really need a smartphone?
You can still buy very basic phones without internet access that won’t impact your child’s screen time in quite the same way.
Don’t Use Screens to Occupy your Children When it Suits
Try to avoid letting your children use devices just when it suits you. Many parents bring devices for car journeys or restaurant trips in order to keep the brood quiet and under control. But this establishes bad habits.
Bring games. Talk as a family. It might not always be the easiest option but it will help you to avoid problems further down the road.
Use Tech to Control Screen Time
There’s some great tech out there to help parents limit their children’s screen time. It can also help in avoiding the same old argument when you tell them to switch their device off.
Some routers and computer security packages allow you to set limits and even monitor devices. Most game consoles now come with a time restriction option.
There are also some amazing apps out there that allow you to schedule screen time throughout the week, block the internet and even approve the apps that your child wants to download.
Limiting children’s screen time isn’t easy. But it’s a job every parent has to do. By setting a good example, involving your children in negotiations and making use of technology, you can hopefully manage to limit screen time without having your kids hate you for it!
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