In today’s digital world, more and more children are glued to their devices- smartphones, tablets, TVs and other screen-based devices, consuming more and more of their time and attention. Passive screen time is replacing reading, playing, socializing and problem-solving.
Screens keep your child quiet and occupied, but too much screen time can be detrimental, leading to poor sleep quality and even poorer attention span. However, in our screen filled world, keeping children off their cherished devices, setting rules and enforcing limits – on how much TV your child watches or how many video games she plays – isn’t always easy. Moreover, phones and tablets always being within arm’s reach, streaming services letting you watch what you want and when you want, has made this uphill task even more difficult.
Let’s look at the ABC of how we, as parents, can regulate screen time:
Alternatives– Screen time should be perceived as a privilege and not a right. If you wish to cut it down, you’ll need to think of activities to fill in place of their screen time, and expect to hear the inevitable “I’m bored.” But remember, boredom is the key to creativity, so it might just force kids to figure out a way to have fun on their own. Explore interesting fun activities that excite your kids, steering them away from screens.
Before you budget – When coming up with limits, have an open dialogue with your children to ask for their input. Discuss the impact and negative consequences of excessive screen time. Then mutually decide a specific daily duration for online activities and TV viewing. If you think 45 minutes would be an appropriate amount of time to spend on devices, suggest the same and if the child counters by asking for an extra 10 to 15 minutes for the weekend, you could choose to agree. It is a win-win!
Clock the minutes – So depending on the age of the child, you could allow a certain daily screen time. In case they don’t use those minutes, they could bank them for later use. This gives them a sense of control.
Where there isn’t always a natural end point, like for kids watching YouTube or playing games, use a timer to keep track of time. As they get older, children will inevitably look for loopholes. They need to understand that they get only get X amount a day, and it is non-negotiable. The minute you get into negotiating, that boundary becomes very weak; you’ll be in for trouble.
If you don’t want to be the screen police all week long, ban it altogether on school days. Wouldn’t it be much easier to monitor screen time if there were none? One could record movies or matches and watch them over the weekend or on holidays.
Set aside times for the entire family to unplug devices and connect with each other. For instance, meal times or an hour before bedtime could be family time for quality time together without TV, video games and computers. Families could also consider a longer digital detox and improve family bonding.
Be prepared to spend more time with your kids. Many parents use screens as babysitters, so you’re going to have to adjust your own schedules.
It’s easy to start, it’s easy to stop, but it’s difficult to continue! So, whatever rules you make, the hardest part is sticking to them. Another big challenge is cutting down your own screen time. If you are glued to your phone, how can you expect your child to put their device away? Don’t set an example for your children, be the example!
Managing your child’s screen time will be an ongoing challenge. However, based on these cues and developing screen time rules — and revisiting them as your child grows — can help ensure a safe online experience.