Do your children spend much of their free time in front of a screen? If so, you’re not alone. A recent study done by Common Sense Media showed that most children (8-18) spend an average of 6 to 9 hours on electronic devices daily. It is safe to say that media is ever present in the lives of children today. But how much screen time do experts say we should allow our children to consume daily?
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new recommendations for children’s screen usage in 2016. The newest recommendations say:
- Under 18 months: avoid screens (other than video-chatting)
- 18-24 months: limit screen time to only introducing them to a screen to teach them what they are seeing
- 2-5 years: Limit screen time to 1 hour per day while co-viewing media
- 6+: No set limit, but place consistent limits on time using media, types of media, and where media usage is taking place.
While these limits may seem out of reach, it is important to keep them in mind even if the numbers don’t exactly match your lifestyle. The latest numbers state that children are spending almost two-thirds of their day on a device. To create a healthy lifestyle for children, it is important to set rules on how much time they can spend on devices. The only way to change what we accept is to change our behaviors and habits.
Cutting Back on Screen Time
1. Baby Steps. Make gradual changes. Does your child constantly reach for their phone or tablet after school? If so, try cutting back 1 hour a week to start. It is impossible to ask children to cut out electronic devices completely, but making small changes is the best place to start behavior change.
2. Unplug the bedroom. Having devices available in the bedroom can interfere with sleep, making it hard to fall asleep at night. Not sleeping at night makes it hard to have energy to do activities during the day. Keep as many screens as you can out of bedrooms. Also, by placing TVs, computers, cell phones, and tablets in a central location, you can better monitor the time spent in front of them.
3. Create a screen time schedule. Once you've established a screen time limit, sit down with your children every week and let them figure out how they plan to use it. Just make sure that screen time doesn't occur during meals or within an hour of bedtime. Otherwise, honor the agreement.
4. Out of sight, out of mind. Put devices in a place where you or your children cannot see them. By not having them constantly in front of us it is easier to forget they exist, thereby limiting screen time.
5. Mind your own screen time. If you spend a chunk of your day sitting on your phone or in front of a screen, you can't expect to pry your kids loose from their screens. Keep track of your screen time. While you may need your phone with you for work, try to avoid scrolling social media or playing games. What you do, your children will do. Trading out your phone after dinner for a book instead will show your child that books can be just as entertaining.
6. Encourage other activities. Reading, doing puzzles or playing board games, playing outside, and spending time with friends or family are a few of the healthy activities your family can engage in instead of being on a device. By planning activities, you can keep your child entertained without a screen.
7. Stand your ground. Be consistent. Chances are, cutting back on your child's screen time will cause some conflicts. Remember that you are the parent and you make the rules. Stay calm and remind your child why these limits are important for their health. In the end, you and your child will reap the rewards.
8. Motivate your kid to be active. Screen time can be addicting (we’ve all binged a show in a day). However, making sure to plan a time to get off screens and go do something active keeps your child moving. Children enjoy doing activities, especially if you keep it as a habit from an early age. Show your support for choices to be active by providing transportation. Go rock climbing, hiking, or just for a walk around the neighborhood.
9. Encourage activities that involve socializing. Look for activities and clubs that engage your child socially. Much of the socializing that used to happen is lost today with the use of social media and cell phones. Encourage outings with other children of similar ages, such as school or church groups, camps, or volunteer work. Plan outings with family or friends.
10. Do it as a family. You'll be more likely to get your child’s buy-in if you come up with screen time rules all together. As a group you can write up a contract that outlines clear house rules. Here are some suggestions for rules to implement together:
- No screens during meals, either at home or at a restaurant.
- No screens until after homework and chores are done.
- Screens get turned off at a set time every night.
- Computers, tablets, and TVs stay in a public room in the home.
- No screens in bedrooms (no cell phones, computers, or TVs).
Talk about it. Simply setting limits won't necessarily go over well. Children can be selfish regarding their screen time, so make sure they understand they still have some control. Let them see that they can choose when and what they want to watch as long as it is within the established limits. Explain that the more time they are on screens, the less time they have to be physically active and social. Show them articles or books about the impact of using too much media so they understand that your rules aren't unfounded -- and that you've got their best interest in mind.
The overall goal is to build a healthy relationship with screens. Like all things in life, moderation is key and too much of one thing isn’t healthy. By instilling a healthy relationship with devices as early as possible, you will provide a great foundation for your child to continue with in the future.