Screens have become a large part of our everyday life. Unfortunately, screens affect kids’ cognitive, social, and emotional development, as well as their physical and mental health. It affects sleep, memory and learning, mood, anxiety, and behaviour.
Most parents are concerned about how much time their kids are on screens (if you’re unsure, check out this SCREENER to see!) but are at a loss of how to change things. It is not easy, but it is essential to limit and manage screen time effectively for your kids’ (and family’s) overall well-being.
Limit Screen time
Create a Family Media plan
Be sure to individualize not only how much screen time everyone gets, but also what content can be accessed. Choose times and content together and purposefully. Every family is different, do find the right balance that meets your needs.
As you make the plan, talk with your kids about what is acceptable and unacceptable online behaviours and expectations. Ask them for their ideas first – we don’t want to make this into a lecture.
Be sure to review this plan regularly.
Establish screen-free times
Make firm expectations when screens are off-limits, such as during meals or any family times, with friends, or before bed. You may even want to have screen-free days. Plan family activities to enjoy your time together.
Establish screen-free zones
Limit screens in certain places. In my house, we don’t let any technology go in any bedrooms. We have established places where screens can be used.
Schedule other activities
When you take away screens, you need to ensure you outline what things your kids can be doing instead. Scheduling your day can be extremely helpful when your kids unplug.
Screens generally steal away opportunities and experiences that are important for kids’ development. Prioritize activities and routines that are important for your family. Make sure they have time to interact face-to-face, exercise, get outside, pursue a hobby, learn, and play. Kids also need to learn how to fill their own time, so downtime/bored time can be good too so they can find things they enjoy on their own. Here are 119 activities you can do with your kids now!
Turn off background screens
Avoid background TV and turn off all screens (even phones and laptops) when they are not being used – helps limit the ‘quick checks’ we tend to make. If you do need to keep them on, turn off notifications.
Be a Role Model
Be sure to model your own screen habits and practice doing what you want them to do. Limit your own screen time. Plan to do other things like reading or fixing things around the house. Follow your own plans and rules.
Manage Screen time
When our kids do get screen time, we want to ensure that we manage it effectively.
Always be nearby when kids are using screens – even your teens. When watching TV, watch with your kids and talk about what they are seeing. Play video games with them.
Being present with your kids not only helps you connect with them, but talking about what you are watching/playing helps promote comprehension and language development, and cognitive abilities like attention and memory.
Make it Meaningful
Make sure your kids have a purpose when they do use screens. They should know exactly what they need to turn the screen on for and where they are going to go (e.g., don’t let them mindlessly roam through Netflix until they find something interesting.
Make sure whatever program they engage in is active, social, or promoting their learning. (Playing games with friends online doesn’t count.)
Use screens in creative ways
Teach your kids active ways to use technology and screens (vs. passively watching or playing). Use phones or iPads as cameras to take pictures or make their own movies. Go geocaching. Use screens to do yoga, learn new dance moves, or exercise. Face-time friends and family.
There are also additional considerations to think about when you decide to work on screentime in your family. While I am a pretty easygoing parent with no real rules in my house, I am 100% a stickler when it comes to screens. Because I have seen the detriment they have had on children, teens, and adults. And their families. While it might feel hard to tackle in the moment, it will be far easier today than it will be tomorrow.