Tips for Getting your Child’s Screen Time Under Control
As a mother of two young kids I am known to chuck on the TV or hand over the tablet in order to get a few minutes of peace. As tired parents caught up in the constant demands of everyday life it is just so easy to rely on technology to keep our kids happy while we get some stuff done such as tend to younger siblings. I don’t think all screen time is bad, but it’s definitely a slippery slope. All of a sudden you find that your little people are consuming more digital content. It starts to cause fights, they are asking for it like it’s crack cocaine, your kids start to look like zombies and you don’t even know what they’re watching anymore. It kinda gets out of hand really quick!
Unlike our own childhood experiences, our kids are really surrounded by technology from the get go. No getting bored in between TV shows on the box, it’s now a constant streaming on demand, back to back smorgasbord with everything a click away. It’s a whole new digital age and the long-term effects are not yet fully understood. There are lots of upsides of this digital age, but even Steve Jobs is said to have limited the technology his kids used at home. So why should we be mindful of how much screen time our kids consume? Dr Elizabeth Kilby has identified the main areas being affected by screen time which in Britain has more than doubled in the last decade.
- Social issues (with ages 4-11 developmentally very important in terms of socalisation)
- Increased physical impacts, including poor core muscle development and obesity from inactivity and ‘text neck’ where spines are unusually bent due to leaning over devices
- Impacts on focus and concentration
So how can we gain some control over this beast that is screen time?
- Be consistent and confident with your plan of attack. Parents need to be on board and fully committed. Oh yes, this is a hard one. But remember you will see positive benefits in your child as you persevere.
- Be a good role model. The saying goes that children may not listen to you, but oh boy they are watching everything you do! I am trying to put my phone away from at least 5-9pm every day and this has its benefits for me too.
- Decide on firm screen time limits. You may not be wanting to cut it out altogether. Some recommend cutting out the morning time (yes, I know this is often the babysitter until mum or dad fully wakes up!). TV in the morning has been shown to have adverse effects on children for the rest of the day, by kind of slowing down their brain. Personally, I have noticed the difference in just getting my child ready after TV and after no TV (less agitation!).
- Find a new routine for your child that replaces the screen time. I love board games so have been collecting a few from op shops. We are trying to add board game time during weeknights. Not as easy as it sounds when you and your partner are tired but it’s a great opportunity to connect and engage. Other ideas include Lego, dance
- Tell your child in advance about the new routine and don’t try to dismiss their feelings because obviously the are not going to be happy chappies about it and will need to express that.
- Set a timer for their allocated screen time. This is really effective in avoiding fights.
- Always monitor what they are watching. Slower, less frenetic shows are meant to be better content. Watch this TED talk by Dr Dimitri Christakis to get informed on what TV does to your child.
- Don’t worry if you fall off the horse! When we get sick, when it rains for four days straight, when we travel somewhere it is very easy to fall back into bad habits. Just admit you let it creep back in again but you are again setting the limits so they can think better, sleep better, learn better and their bodies can grow and feel better.
None of this parenting gig is easy. But as is often the case, the important stuff takes the most persistence and plain hard work! Also feel free to check out our list of 50 Screen Free Activity Ideas