A brother and sister lie on the living room floor, watching a show on a tablet.

Because cold turkey isn’t realistic: How to reduce your child’s screen time

It’s safe to say that by now, parents and caregivers know that too much screen time is not good for our children. We also know that screen time is simply not going anywhere. Our children are doing everything from learning about body parts to figuring out how to add and subtract integers on YouTube. They’re staying in touch with friends and family, playing games, reading, writing, and more.

However, while it’s okay to give yourself and your children a break with screen time rules every now and again, what do you do when it gets out of control? Whether you follow the guidelines strictly, or have come up with your own rules around the amount of time your kids can spend on screens, we all know the signs of too much.

Here’s some helpful advice on how to pick your battles with screen time. The trick is to reduce screen time instead of trying to eliminate altogether, and stick to that plan. Being consistent goes a long way. 

A young girl lies on her stomach, watching a show on an iPad. She wears pink headphones.

Minimizing screen time

Most devices have parental controls that allow you manage how long your child uses a screen and what they can access. To learn more about parental controls and setting screen time limits on various devices, you can do a quick internet search. You can also check out this article

Here are some other suggestions for minimizing screen time for your child:

Make sure there are no TV shows playing in the background throughout the day or evening

It can become a habit to have the television on during the day, especially when we’re at home with young children. But a simple way to limit screen time is to turn the television off and save TV-watching for high-quality entertainment or for family time at the end of the day. You can find more information about age-appropriate TV shows, movies, video games, and more for your entire family on Common Sense Media.

Prioritize screen-free meal times

This one sounds obvious, but it’s a very simple way to set limits on screen time. When you’re at the dinner table, no scrolling on or staring at screens. It’s a great time for the whole family to interact, face to face, instead. As long as you make this a rule and are consistent with it, this can be an easy hour out of each day that is automatically screen-free. For a free poster related to this simple rule, check out our Easy Habits page.

Be a role model

It can be hard to follow your own advice, but part of the solution is to do as you say! Put your smartphones and other electronic devices away, perhaps even in another room, when you’re spending time with your family. You can save the screen time for when you’re not all together, like after the kids have gone to bed.

Avoid screen time one hour before bed

If you set a firm rule that screens are not allowed after a certain time at night (say, one hour before bedtime), your kids will come to understand that this is a family rule that has to be followed. If you allow screen time at other times during the day, but not at night, you’re still allowing for some flexibility with devices, and at the same time, you’ll still be limiting their screen time. 

When possible, head outside

One of the best ways to have young children forget about their screens is to do something fun outdoors instead. Even better if you can do it together. What about a family walk to the local playground or park to play? Maybe a bike ride (possibly with a fun destination in mind). How about a scavenger hunt? This outdoor sensory scavenger hunt is always a hit with little ones! There are so many things kids can do outside on their own, or you can do together as a family.  

What are some ways you reduce screen time in your house? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to answer this quick question below.

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