Every parent today is concerned about screen time for kids. Moms regularly ask, how to reduce screen time, and what kind of indoor activities to introduce instead of screens.
Before we get into the specific strategies to reduce screen time, let us first look at what the AAP recommends;
Screen Time Limits By Age
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages, 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
As you can see, the guidelines don’t say you need to ban screens instead they suggest judicious use of screens laying emphasis on quality of programming with appropriate parental controls.
Why Excessive Screen Time Is Bad For Children?
A study found that children age 2 and under in the United States averaged 3 hours, 3 minutes a day of screen time.
3- 5-year-olds on the other hand got 2 hours, 28 minutes a day of screen time. (Source : JAMA Pediatrics, Vol. 173, No. 4, 2019)
Another recent market research survey found that an average American child (ages 5- 16) spends about 5 to 8 hours a day in front of screens.
Research shows us that more time spent on screens (age 2-3) is linked to behavioral, cognitive and social development difficulties. (JAMA Pediatrics, Vol. 173, No. 3, 2019)
Other than this, excessive screen time can leave a child with less time for free play, one-on-one interaction with family members, time outdoors, and even affect sleep.
So how to reduce screen time and give our children an opportunity to live life unplugged?
Tips To Reduce Screen Time For Kids
1. Be a role model
Are you constantly glued to your phone, iPad or laptop? It’s not rocket science to know that in order for you to reduce screen time for your kids, you need to get off screens too.
Some job roles require parents to be constantly on the phone or in front of the laptop. Explain to your child that this is part of work. Have a designated work time and screen free one on one time with the child.
Allocating media free times of the day for the family works wonderfully in driving home the point.
No screens at the dinner table, in bedrooms, or during family time. Engage in hobbies other than mindless scrolling through social media. Remember your child is observing you live your life and learning from you. I am not saying you need to put up a show, but this helps us as parents to look at what type of lifestyle we are promoting to our kids. Our need to parent better in this aspect has a beneficial effect on the entire family.
Read books, go for a run, pursue your own hobbies so your child can see what life is all about.
The child sees you exercise the balance between real life and virtual life and understands limits better when you set them.
2. Screen-free activities
Have a set of go-to screen-free activities that you know your child will enjoy. I work from home and each night I keep a small activity ready for our son the next day. Adding something a new every other day keeps things exciting, and boredom at bay.
A very important reminder for moms is that children are naturally curious learners and don’t require much assistance in keeping themselves busy. But they do need a safe environment to explore and be themselves. Work at safety proofing the home and creating a play area for your child to safely navigate.
I find sensory activities the most engaging for toddlers. Here is a list of simple indoor activities for toddlers and preschoolers. Some of these require minimal supervision and can give you the much-needed coffee break you deserve, mama.
In our home, we use a mix of toys, pretend play, water play, sensory bins, music, dance and reading as alternatives to T.V.
3. Encourage new hobbies
By age 3 and up, most kids start to have likes of their own. Figure out what your child is enjoying and try and find them an enjoyable class or get together as a family and encourage activities based on the child’s current interests.
4. Spend time outdoors
Time outside in the early morning sun and fresh air is important for growth and development. Time spent outdoors in the sun is not only important for Vit D but also builds stronger eyesight. Kids sleep better and are able to focus on studies much better.
Yes, too much sun exposure (avoid the sun during peak UV rays time between 11 am -3 pm ) can cause sunburn and skin damage, but it is hard to dismiss the many benefits of sun exposure. Our bodies work best with a little bit of daily sunshine.
Many experts recommend that children should get at least 3 hours a day outdoors and no, this does not include organized sport. Movement through active play like climbing, skipping, rolling improves gross motor skills, helps with emotional regulation and even improves creativity, and academic success.
These days one of the biggest hurdles for many families is finding safe play spaces for their children. With cities getting crowded there is a burden on infrastructure. While these are challenges we need to resolve as a society, at the family level we need to ask ourselves how we can adopt an active lifestyle and increase time outdoors.
5. Encourage reading
Back home, after toys and educational activities, one habit that can turn into a hobby for the child later in life is reading.
Books have so much to offer the child and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading to children.
6. Set firm limits
Parenting is all about being an assertive and reasonable voice in the child’s life. You are the anchor in your child’s life. Help your child navigate the world of screens with confidence, instead of shaming and blaming.
With younger children, it’s easier to switch off and monitor content on your terms. But it can get trickier as the children grow older.
Start by assessing your current screen usage, have an honest talk with your kids about why too much is not good and set some house rules on how much is okay.
Include screen-free zones in the home (e.g. bedroom, dinner table) and screen-free times of the day (e.g. mornings are for creative play and quiet time in the afternoon, etc.)
Select the content carefully taking into consideration developmental readiness for topics chosen.
Allow the child to select between two to three options at a time. And have a strict cap off times.
For older kids, the family can discuss together and arrive at a suitable list of programming for the child to view. Taking their choices into consideration is also important but within a reasonable limit.
One way around using the T.V or Youtube for content is to download movies, programs to your laptop or iPad and prepare a curated list for your child.
Having a designated day of the week for younger kids and designated time of the day for older kids helps curb excessive screen usage.
Figure out what works for your family. The solutions may not look the same, but the idea is that if the child is involved in the decision-making, most probably he will follow through.
Frequently Asked Questions About Screen Time
What content is considered as high-quality content for children?
- Shows, movies and program that promote or showcase positive message about relationships, family and life.
- Shows and programs that showcase real life situations or places, where the child can also learn about the same. For example a school setting or hospital setting.
- Shows that feature characters displaying kindness, respectful language and behavior. Avoid shows that showcase bad attitudes as cool behaviors.
- Educational programs like wildlife documentaries or science based shows that explain concepts and create awareness about topics.
- Many TV shows and apps these days are also used as a tool to sell promotional toys, gear and junk food to children. Be aware of running themes in programming for children and avoid such content.
- Look for age appropriate story lines that you know your child will follow, can ask about and leave out shows and movies that are too complex for young children to grasp.
- Young children should also be viewing content that is slower paced. – each scene unfolds slowly, giving the child enough time to process the contents of the scene. Avoid fast action programs with loud over stimulating sound effects.
- Programs that encourages the child to join in by answering questions, or doing what the character is doing on screen like singing and dancing are also great.
How to set screentime rules in families with multiple kids?
Here is a wonderful post, on how this mom implements screentime rules for her large family.
One way to reduce screen time for younger children in the family is to schedule screen use for the older kids when the younger one’s nap.
As mentioned above having an honest conversation with kids, and exposure to a wide variety of activities in the day is the most effective way to reduce addictive screen use.
I hope these tips and suggestions help your family navigate the world of screens confidently.
In a way, healthy screen use and a healthy diet have the same key to success. A balanced approach to screens helps in the long run rather than absolute bans or excessive addictive use.
How do you help your children reduce screen time and what benefits of reducing screen time have you experienced? Leave us with your most successful family screen time rules in the comment section below.