Setting screen time boundaries with your children can be tricky––but it’s not impossible, thanks to a few helpful strategies!
By Hilary, Contributing Writer
Screen time boundaries can become such a hassle with children.
The research is clear: media greatly influences the thoughts and behaviors of children. Between advertisements, entertainment and news, children can be exposed to violence and unwholesome behavior long before they should. Excessive media use is tied to sleeping and eating disorders, obesity, attention difficulties, and academic problems. (source)
Yet, TV can be such a convenient diversion so parents can take a break–-or get things accomplished around the house.
And kids love it.
Realistically speaking, most children want way more screen time than they should have–-especially if they’re currently in a cycle of a lot of screen time.
A child’s attraction to screen time–television, computer or handheld devices–-can quickly lead to obsession. Today, children typically average 7 hours a day (!!) using electronic media of some kind-–whether it’s television, computers or phones.
Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates the appropriate amount of daily screen time for children is no TV for ages 2 and younger, and no more than 1 to 2 hours for older children.
How can a parent navigate between an appropriate amount of screen time and too much TV?
In my home, I have a love/hate relationship with our TV. I do really like the way my children are easily entertained by it. But I don’t want to use it as a babysitter. And I don’t want them to waste their time and creativity sitting around watching the boob tube. So I monitor their time spent on screens.
If you want to start setting screen time boundaries with your children, try any or all of these approaches:
Option 1: Hard Core (No TV)
Some families deal with the too much TV issue by simply eliminating television. After all, if it’s not in your home, there is absolutely no temptation to watch it. (We take this approach with handheld devices in my home…there’s no tablet temptation, because there’s simply no tablet.) This method works well for some families.
While my husband and I choose to have a TV in our family room, we refuse to have them in any of our bedrooms.
Bedrooms should be a place of rest and peace––not noisy television sets. It’s incredibly difficult to monitor your child’s time in front of the TV if it’s in his or her room. It’s also practically impossible to know what programming your son or daughter is exposed to.
For some families with teens, putting limits on texting and smart phones during certain times of the day is important–-sometimes those little screens are as much as an interruption as big screens.
Option 2: Screen Time with Boundaries
If you’re not ready to ditch your TV, don’t worry…you still can create healthy screen time boundaries.
Depending on what positive traits you’d like to help your child develop, you could:
Limit time spent on the TV or computer.
Know how much screen time you’ll allow per day (or per week) and keep track of it. When the time’s up, the TV’s turned off. (An app called Screentime will actually shut a tablet off.)
If your children are in a habit of watching way too much TV, don’t go cold turkey. Simply scale back TV time an hour at a time. Within a couple weeks you’ll get them on a healthier media diet.
Turn off the TV if you’re not watching it.
Even leaving the TV turned on as background noise can hurt a child’s cognitive development. (source) So turn it off when you’re finished watching a program. It will help your electric bill, too!
Use a screen time schedule.
Since my children were young, I found that I could limit their screen time by allowing TV just two times a day: when I’m preparing breakfast and dinner. It gives me uninterrupted time in the kitchen, and if I cook fast, they’re not watching much. (If we’re having a rough day, it might take a really long time to make dinner.)
Earn TV time.
If your children act a little too entitled for TV, combat the greed issue. Simply make your children earn their screen time.
In my house, I insist that my son’s and daughter’s bedrooms are picked up before they’re allowed to watch any TV.
Some days they choose to keep their rooms a mess–-and miss TV. If you’re trying to form a habit with other chores or work on character building, those could be tied to screen time, too.
Other families encourage reading by making it mandatory to spend a certain amount of time reading or playing outside before children start their screen time.
Some families give screen time tickets as a reward for good manners or in exchange for completed chores. You could choose to assign a particular amount of screen time per ticket. You could also plan a family movie night, where tickets can be redeemed for popcorn and smoothies.
Choose quality shows.
Just because you own a TV doesn’t mean you have to watch mindless rubbish all day, every day. (Fast-paced, trivial cartoons actually are shown to be worse for children. (source) As a parent, you have control over––and you’re responsible for––what your children are exposed to. Don’t be timid in giving your children age-appropriate or developmentally-appropriate restrictions.
When looking for good material, educational videos and games can help children of any age. Depending on what your child is studying in school, you can target their screen time to help them learn more. (For example, Liberty’s Kids is a great Revolutionary War cartoon series for elementary aged kids.)
One reading incentive I like to use is watching movies after books are finished. So, when my son finished reading Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this spring, we watched both versions of the movie during family movie nights, then compared the book to both movies.
I like the way I can use movies to my advantage as a way to teach comparison and contrast, or simply to discuss consequences or right and wrong behaviors.
In my house, our screen time situations are far from perfect. Some days, my kids get a lot more screen time than I ever intend. Yet most days, I’ve found that I can keep a balance that works well for my family by marrying the different techniques.