Screen time for kids is a hot topic among parents.
Today, we have different kinds of screens to deal with, unlike in the ’80s where we only had television.
And that’s a challenge for today’s parents. Technology has transformed so much of our lives. It is an integral part of our life and there’s no doubt that its significance will only increase in the future.
So it is necessary that our kids learn how to use technology. But the question is where to draw the line?
In this article, you will learn
- The appropriate age for children to start using screens and how often should they have screen time
- How can we raise children without screen addiction?
- How to raise happy kids who care about the world and whose heads are not always bent down?
Let’s dive right in.
SCREEN TIME RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHILDREN BY AGE
Screen time means the amount of time a person spends looking at the screens of electronic devices like iPads, computers, TV, tablets, and smartphones.
American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting the screen time for children according to their age.
- For children younger than 18 months, pediatricians don’t recommend screen time at all except video chatting.
- You can start introducing screens to kids aged between 18-24. But it should be high quality programs like Sesame Workshop and PBS. Parents should accompany children so that they understand what they are watching.
- For children between the ages of 2 and 5 years, limit screen time to one hour per day. The program should be high quality and parents are recommended to watch with children to help them understand what they are watching.
- For children above six years, parents can decide the appropriate screen time. You should make sure that they get enough sleep, exercise and time for other activities.
THE ROLE OF A PARENT IN INTRODUCING ELECTRONIC DEVICES TO CHILDREN
From the recommendations of AAP, we can understand that you can’t just hand over a tablet to kids and walk away. As a parent, we are responsible for teaching children about using electronic devices sensibly. We need to educate children on the good and bad effects of technology.
I limit screen time for my kids to only two days per week. On specific days, I let them use my tablet to watch their favorite videos.
They watch entertainment videos, but I ask them to watch videos that are beneficial for them in some way too. Like videos that help in learning a new language or learn new skills like arts and crafts.
WHY LIMIT SCREEN TIME FOR CHILDREN?
Years ago, I came across an article which talked about how successful people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc made restrictions on the use of electronic devices for their children. It caught my attention because these are people who are ultra-successful in the technology field.
And then why would they do that?
In my own research, I could see that there are many side effects in letting children have unlimited screen time. I decided to follow the same path for the well-being of my children and so far it’s been going good.
So, what are the harmful effects of too much screen time for kids?
- Children should grow by engaging all their senses and exploring their surroundings. Too much screen use leads to a sedentary lifestyle (true for adults too) and eventually leads to laziness and become couch potatoes. This leads to obesity too.
- Affects their eyesight. Too much screen time can lead to eye dryness, fatigue, headaches, blurry vision, etc. Studies point out that the rapid increase of myopia (nearsightedness) could be due to increased visual activity (screens and books) and less time spent outdoors.
- Affects sleep. The blue light emitted from the display screens interferes with the sleep cycle in the brain and causes insomnia. So, don’t let them watch TV or use other devices for at least one hour prior to sleep.
- Leads to behavioral problems. Studies conducted on the relation between the behavior of preschoolers and their screen time shows significant attention and behavioral problems in them. Young children need to follow their curious minds and engage in messy play to develop their motor skills.
- Leads to mental health issues. Another study shows that teenagers who spent more time on screens are more prone to depression and have suicidal tendency. The same study shows that children who spent more time on non-screen activities like social interaction, exercise, sports, etc, are less likely to develop mental health issues.
As you can see, there are so many side effects in letting children have too much screen time.
There is no doubt that parents have to take responsibility for instilling good habits around screen time early on. Let’s see how you can limit screen time in children and help develop healthy habits.
8 TIPS TO LIMIT SCREEN TIME FOR KIDS
Kids always learn from what they see and not what they hear. We can’t be a good role model for kids if we ask them to reduce their screen time, but we are always scrolling on our smartphones.
So set rules for yourself like you do for your kids and make sure you follow them. The side effects of having too much screen time are not only for kids but for adults too.
On a different note, have you noticed how you become a better person by learning to control your own bad behaviors when kids are around?
I always wonder how different I would be as a person if I didn’t have kids. I am sure I will be a lot worse, lol! Because they hold me accountable to a certain extent.
Which takes me to the next point…
ESTABLISH HOUSE RULES
Establishing good rules and trying to reinforce them leads to the development of well-rounded children. If you let them use their screens without setting any limits, they never learn about the right way to use electronic devices as a child and this can continue into adulthood as well.
I remember watching TV all day and every day when I was a kid during summers. I didn’t know how to spend my time wisely.
Now I regret wasting my time which I could have used to learn some useful skills. And being glued to your screens turns you into a sloth who loves to procrastinate. It took me a lot of effort to change.
Your kids will not always feel good about rules. They will sometimes whine and you might feel tempted to give in.
But in those moments remind yourself of the reason you set those rules in the first place. As long as it remains valid, there is nothing wrong in being stern.
Otherwise, they won’t value rules because they learn they can always get away with it.
The rules you set depends upon your values and what works in your household. But to give a general idea regarding rules for screen time, you can set rules like,
- No screens at mealtimes
- No screens before bed
- I give my tablet for kids to watch on Saturday and Monday. But they don’t get it unless they are done with showering and breakfast. And who is a happy mom on those days because you don’t have to nag???? So the rule would be “ No tab unless you’re done with your morning routines”.
- No screens when eating out
Please note that these must be applicable to parents too. You don’t want your child to feel disappointed because you are on your phone when you have taken them to a park or when you all are having a fun dinner.
EDUCATE THEM ON THE SIDE EFFECTS OF TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME
When you make a rule, kids with their typical curious minds might ask you why they can’t do it.
Authoritarian parents might say, “Because I said so” or “Just do what I say, no questions”. This never helps and don’t create a genuine likeness in their minds to follow the rules.
Explain the reason behind the rules in a language that they understand.
When my kids ask about why I don’t let them watch certain videos, I explain the reason. And they know why they are not allowed to have screen time daily.
They seem to understand it better when I explain the “why”, and are more easy going with the rules.
Another benefit is if they know about the bad effects of too much screen use from a young age, it will help them to self-regulate when they enter adulthood. Because they would have acquired varied interests and skills to keep themselves engaged.
HAVE A SPECIFIC SCHEDULE
Set a daily duration or specific days in a week when they can use the iPad or watch TV.
Having a schedule helps in limiting screen time because kids get used to the idea that they can have screen time only on those days.
Having a routine for everything, for me as well as kids, is one of the secret weapons that help me face the daily challenges of motherhood.
Having a routine means we all know what’s coming next and there are fewer negotiations and whining.
I let my daughters watch YouTube twice in a week and right now that’s all the screen time they get. Rest of the days they fill their time with activities they love.
Related: How to manage work and life perfectly as a work-from-home mom
ENCOURAGE INDEPENDENT PLAY
Try to encourage kids to play on their own. It helps to develop a sense of independence in them. They learn how to use their free time by engaging in imaginative play or doing creative work.
And that’s one of the reasons I limit screen time and don’t let them watch TV too. It makes them bored. And that motivates them to find something to do for themselves.
They engage in imaginative play creating new scenarios every second. I love watching silently, smiling inside, how they use their imagination to create new games.
I feel proud and I know this is not gonna happen frequently if they are used to watching TV every day. Because watching TV means to spend their time sitting idle.
Children have never-ending curiosity and a wild imagination. But they need the time to make use of it. They can’t engage in creative pursuits if they are always watching mind-numbing shows.
BUY THEM TOYS THAT SPARK CREATIVITY
I have never seen my kids playing with toys that make a lot of noise by singing, dancing, and flashing lights. They easily get bored with such toys and they are forgotten usually on the second day when their initial excitement has worn down.
Such toys only add to the clutter and are a waste of money.
What they love and play long term are the toys that promote creativity and need their imagination to play such as LEGOs, building blocks, dolls, kitchen sets, etc.
Playing with such toys help them to develop social skills as well. Playing with siblings or friends requires them to negotiate with each other for toys or roles and sometimes that leads to fights too. But in the end, they solve it by themselves or by adult intervention.
These are all valuable lessons they get by limiting screen time.
HELP THEM FIND OTHER FUN ACTIVITIES
Recently I started teaching my older one crochet and she is loving it so far. There are many options if you want to get kids off-screen, but you have to lead them as a guide to different interests.
Have craft supplies, puzzles, storybooks, etc. ready so that you can encourage them to play with those when they complain of boredom.
Another option is to make them play outdoors. It has many benefits for kids and adults alike. It helps to refresh our minds, build immunity and get more exercise too.
USE A SCREEN TIME TRACKING APP
There are many apps for parents to control and track the screen time for kids.
You install these apps on your device and your child’s device. Then you get the options to control their usage time, schedule blocked periods for sleep and homework and even instantly pause their screens while they are watching.
And you can also keep an eye on their web history and be aware of what they are surfing.
I don’t personally use these apps as my kids are small (4 and 7) and their screen use is much controlled now.
But if you are a frustrated parent who finds it difficult to get kids engaged in other activities because of too much screen time, you can use such apps.
I would do it with their consent because exerting too much control might not be a good idea to get co-operation. And also at the same time, let them know why you are doing this and how excessive screen time affects them. Our aim should be to teach them balance and moderation. Using scare tactics can only work so far.
I did research on screen time tracking apps for you. Here are some apps that you can check out.
When it comes to limiting screen time for kids, the earlier you start the better. What are your best tips on controlling screen time? Let me know in the comments below.
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