We’ve got phones in our pockets, iPads on bedside tables, computers at school and work, and an all-you-can-eat buffet of top-quality TV and movies available whenever and wherever we want it. With so many digital diversions, it’s no wonder that the amount of time both kids and parents spend on screens is eating up a larger and larger share of our days.
Even though we all know that too much screen time is bad for our mental, physical, and emotional health, the reality is that most families today struggle to keep screen time in check. Yet, finding a healthy balance may be easier than you think.
Here are 10 ways you can help your family manage screen time:
1. Make a family media plan
It’s the parents’ responsibility to set limits for children, but kids will have an easier time accepting those limits if they feel they’ve been involved in the decision-making. Call a family meeting to share your concerns about screen time, and ask for your kids’ help to create a family media plan that will clearly define the house rules around screens. One tool that may help is the online media time calculator created by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which creates a visual breakdown of how much time your family spends on screens relative to other daily priorities.
2. Be present when screens are used
Young children get more out of educational programming when adults talk to them about what’s happening on screen. For older children, games, TV, and movies can spark important discussions about family values, current events, or create opportunities for family bonding. Being present when children are on screens also helps keep kids safe, as you can intervene if you notice that what they’re doing or watching isn’t age-appropriate.
3. Talk with your kids about acceptable screen use
Just as we teach our kids how to safely cross neighbourhood streets, cycle on the correct side of the road, and what to do if approached by a stranger on the playground, we need to teach our kids how to stay safe online and how to make sure screen time isn’t getting in the way of sleep, mealtime, playtime, or face-to-face socializing with family and friends.
4. Encourage screen use that is educational, active, or social
Screen time isn’t all bad! Encourage kids to use their devices to FaceTime faraway family members, create home movies or animations, learn more about things that interest them, or get ideas for activities, crafts, or things to do.
Related resource: Managing screen time—spread the word!
5. Help your children choose good content
For young children, look for programming that isn’t too fast-paced or energetic, with characters, storylines, or topics that reflect your family’s values. A good source to help evaluate whether a show or game is appropriate for your child is Common Sense Media. This website provides family-friendly ratings for movies, TV shows, and games as well as age recommendations and information about any sex, violence, language, and controversial themes.
6. Schedule “screen-free” times
One small change that can help keep screens in check is to clearly outline when screens are not permitted, and for everyone in the family to put screens away for certain periods (Mom and Dad too!). You might decide that screens are not allowed during playdates, for example, or in certain places, like the living room. Some families restrict screen use either to after school or weekends, depending on their schedule. Others leave devices at home while on vacation, or declare Sundays to be screen-free. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but it helps everyone stay on track to be clear about when your family is screen-free.
7. Turn off screens when not in use
Screens are powerful attention magnets and can distract kids from active or imaginative play. You can help your kids stay focused on other activities by turning off screens when not in use.
8. Turn screens off at least one hour before bed
Light and stimulation from screens can lead some kids to have trouble falling asleep. Switching screens off well before bedtime helps to make sure kids get to bed on time and wake up well-rested.
9. Limit screen use in public places
Handing over your phone or tablet is often an effective way to keep kids quiet at restaurants or during long stroller walks, but it’s best to save this as a last resort! Try packing a “busy bag” with small toys, crayons and paper, little pots of playdough, or other items to give young children something to do. You can also try playing simple games like I Spy or let toddlers out of the stroller to walk or crawl around for a bit if they get fussy.
10. Make screens off-limits during mealtime
Family mealtimes are important opportunities to connect with each other, and for kids to learn mealtime etiquette and practice conversational skills. When screens are at the table, not only can it get in the way of these connections, but it can also make kids less aware of when they are full, which could lead them to overeat. For adults too, mealtime is an important time to switch off digital distractions. Most emails and social media pings can wait for your answer until dinner’s done!