No matter how busy and active your family is, there’s something about screen time that is endlessly tempting to kids. It doesn’t matter if it’s television, video games, or watching YouTube on a tablet—screens are a big draw at every age, and most parents have fought a fair number of battles with their children over when, where, and how often various screen devices are allowed.
Every family is different and not all screen time is created equal, so it’s important to figure out rules that work for your family. For example, an hour of educational online games that support literacy or math skills isn’t the same as an hour spent watching Paw Patrol, so be sure to factor that into your decision-making (and your mom guilt!).
That said, if you’re trying to reduce your kids’ screen time while avoiding another family feud, here are some tips to help get you started.
1. Out of sight, out of mind
Sometimes, technology is extra tempting because it’s right there in plain sight. If you have tablets, laptops, or other devices at home, consider storing them in a cupboard or an area of the home your kids don’t use regularly (for example, a parent’s home office). Video game systems and handheld gaming consoles can be tucked away when not in use. Want to take things a step further? If space allows, avoid having a television in your kids’ main play area in order to separate play time and screen time. (Think of this like a throwback to when our parents had a “computer room” in the ‘90s or early 2000s!)
2. Offer fun alternatives
A lot of kids default to screen time when they feel bored, so get ahead of the game by offering a variety of engaging options for off-screen play and activities. It may help to have open shelving or other easily accessible storage for books, puzzles, board games, Lego, and other hands-on toys. (Bonus tip: rotate toys in and out of storage every couple of months to keep things interesting!)
You can also create an art space with craft supplies that inspire, keep a basket of fidget toys or musical instruments, and encourage more backyard play with balls, chalk, and other outdoor activities. A lot of kids will enjoy planting a vegetable garden or potted herbs, and older kids can have fun with science experiments at the kitchen table. What screens?
3. Set a family plan and routines for screens
You likely have family routines for mornings, dinnertime, and bedtime, so why not develop routines for screen time? Involve your kids in creating a family media plan around when screens are appropriate (for example, after school and in the morning on weekends) and when they’re not (right before bed maybe). Or link screen time to the completion of age-appropriate responsibilities. Kids will have an easier time following the plan if they feel they’ve been involved in the decision-making.
Maybe your kids have to finish their homework before playing video games, or perhaps tablets are only allowed once chores are done. These expectations won’t be the same for every household, so make rules that reflect your specific needs, boundaries, and daily schedule. Remember, some parents might allow cartoons before school while others don’t, and both approaches are totally okay! Just be clear and stick with it.
4. Use an app to monitor and restrict usage
If your kids continue to struggle with following rules around screen time, parental controls may be the solution. Consider using an app that monitors and/or limits screen time use on a variety of devices. While each app is different, most are able to lock devices after a set length of time, forcing kids to adhere to whatever daily limit has been set by their parents. This means no more calls for “five more minutes” or sneaky tablet use. If this is the direction you’d like to go, here are some more great recommendations from Consumers Advocate.
5. Be consistent
No matter how your family decides to manage screen time, hold your ground and be consistent. Kids will naturally test limits, so when you give in to demands for more video games one day, they’ll expect the same result next time. That’s not to say you can’t let them watch an extra episode of cartoons on a rainy afternoon or lazy Sunday, but it does mean making a conscious effort to follow the rules you’ve set as a family and have consistent, dependable routines.
It may be hard in the beginning, but the more consistent your approach is, the more quickly your kids will adapt. Good luck—you’ve got this!