Due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, parents and their children turned to smartphones, computers and televisions for entertainment, socialization and education. Many parents considered these screens as a lifeline not just for their children but for themselves, too, particularly with work-from-home arrangements.
Does that sound familiar? If it is, you’re likely also fed up with your children being too attached to their screens at home! You want your kids to make a smoother transition to their pre-pandemic activities – little to no screen time, to be more specific. But it’s easier said than done because children can be less receptive to change.
The good news: The change doesn’t have to be sudden and significant at once! Here are tips to make the transition easier and smoother for you and your children.
Screen Time for Children and Their Potential Harmful Effects
Health experts have identified several potential harmful effects on children exposed to digital screens. This applies to newborns, toddlers and young children, even adolescents and young adults.
According to the Mayo Clinic, children who spend too much time in front of digital screens are at high risk of developing physical and mental health issues.
The more screen time, the higher the risk of being overweight or obeses due to the lack of physical activity combined with overeating of junk food.
- Sleep deprivation and/or irregular sleep patterns
Children can have greater difficulty falling and staying asleep with increased screen time. Sleep loss is an underlying cause for overeating, fatigue and loss of concentration. These adverse effects, in turn, have a negative impact on daily life activities and academic performance.
- Behavioral issues
Elementary students with more than two hours of screen time have a higher risk for social, emotional and concentration issues. The exposure to violence can result in increased desensitization to violence among children.
You, as a parent, must ask yourself if your children’s excessive screen time has a negative impact on their physical and mental health. You may even be concerned that there’s less enthusiasm and time for family time, active play, and creative activities!
But how much screen time is too much for children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the general recommendations are as follows:
- Under two years old – No screen time
- Children 2-12 years old – One hour per day
- Teens – Two hours per day
And the whooper: Excessive screen time can have the same negative effects on adults, too! You, an adult, can also experience sleep disturbances, relationship issues, and increased eating. You aren’t off the hook, particularly if you want to keep your kids off digital screens, too.
Parents, Keep These 4 P’s in Mind First
We understand that limiting screen time, more so keeping children off screens, is easier said than done! You and your children may already be dependent on your screen time for whatever reason.
- Parents as role models
The work must then start with you, not only because you’re the responsible adult but also because your children are more likely to follow suit. Being a role model for children is challenging but it’s what responsible parents must do!
Be mindful of your own screen time. You can take note of when, where and why you use your smartphone, computer and television. Your mindfulness will strengthen your resolve to use screen time in a more productive manner instead of using it as an escape, so to speak. You can then make profound changes in your screen time and, thus, motivate your children to follow your example.
Be deliberate in your efforts to lessen your own screen time. Let your children see that, indeed, you’re making the effort and succeeding at it!
- Practice makes perfect
Of course, nobody’s perfect but the more you practice mindfulness in relation to your screen time, the more you’re likely to get it right. You must try and try again until your screen time is at a level that works in your unique circumstances. You may, for example, only use screens for work but not for entertainment and socialization.
- Patience is key to success
Children will be children and, thus, parents must be patient in keeping them off screens. You will reiterate your rules, look beyond their violations, and give children multiple chances to follow the rules. Your ability to look at the bigger picture and deal with day-to-day issues is instrumental in maintaining a happy and healthy home.
Keep your cool even when your children are at their screens again – it happens even to be the best adults. Just calmly deal with the situation and start again. Be sure to praise your children, too, when they follow the rules about screen time, perhaps even give rewards for consistent good behavior.
- Perseverance is a must
Perseverance is defined as the ability to make continued and consistent effort despite difficulties. Child development is in itself a slow process and keeping your children off screens can also be a slow process, if it’s to be effective.
But we understand if it isn’t easy to persevere, much less be patient, when children seem to defy the rules at every turn. You must set realistic expectations, discuss the rules and their reasons, and take a deep breath. Your child will make mistakes – and so will you during your parenting journey – so deep breaths and a sense of humor will go a long way.
Effective Tips in Keeping Kids Away from Screens
With the right mindset as a parent, you’re more likely to stick to your plan of transitioning your children from their virtual worlds to the real world.
Build boundaries for screen time with your children.
You, the parent, should create clear boundaries about screen time with your partner/spouse and children. You can start with setting limits about when, where and why smartphones, computers and televisions can be used. You may, for example, limit gadget use to researching assignments for an hour each day.
But it can be challenging to strike a balance between being firm about the rules and forgiving when children violate them for one reason or another. Be patient in handling the issue, reiterate the rules, and give your children another shot at it.
Be ready with explanations, too, why your screen time rules are different from their friends’ families! This is where your family values come in, but be sure to explain them in an age-appropriate manner.
Adjust screen time restrictions based on age.
As children become older, they can be more involved in the decision-making process in your family while also respecting your role as parents. You and your older children can negotiate screen time based on their unique needs, but explain the different limit to your younger kids.
Avoid giving your children their own gadgets, if they don’t have one yet.
This is a no-brainer – without their own smartphone, tablet or computer, your children will have little to no screen time. But if your children already have one, your best course of action will be to set limits about their use. You may even consider “confiscating” their gadgets, but be ready for resistance!
Place televisions and computers only in shared spaces.
You can keep an eye on the duration of screen time, as well as the websites, shows and games they are on, when televisions and computers are in the living room, kitchen or den. You should remove these screens from their bedrooms – and yours so you can set an example.
Even in shared spaces, you should set the rules about screen time. The more you enforce the rules, the more likely that your children will follow them. Again, patience and perseverance are key, as are clear and consistent enforcement of the rules.
Use technology as a control measure.
You can use apps designed to turn off tablets, smartphones and computers after a certain amount of time. You can even use apps that turn off computers using your smartphone as a remote control! You will also find apps that can be used on spying on your children’s screen activities and history!
Provide your children with tech-free time and activities.
If you’re taking away your children’s current main source of entertainment, you must provide them with great alternatives! You want your kids to enjoy off-screen activities that stimulate their creativity and encourage them to engage in physical activities, perhaps enjoy the outdoors.
- Place toys, books and art supplies in their playroom and bedroom, as well as in the living room, kitchen and other shared spaces. You can then encourage your children to enjoy these things instead of being in front of digital screens. You may even want to keep gadgets away from these areas so there’s less temptation.
- Get your children to read more books. You can set reading times during the day, let them choose their preferred topics, and allow them to express their opinions on what they’ve read. This is in addition to your bedtime reading tradition. Stock up on new reading materials, too, so your children have something to look forward to each visit to your mini-library.
- Play games with your children! You don’t even have to play games that require physical activities since board games are excellent for family time, too. As you and your children enjoy the time spent together without screen-related distractions, the temptation for screen time becomes less and less.
- Encourage your children to play outside, too. You may even set a minimum time for outdoor activities every day or week. You can take your children to the park, playground and other open spaces so that they can be in the sunshine, play with other children, and relish their childhood. You’re also strengthening their real-world socialization skills, as well as their physical and mental health.
- Take your children on mini-adventures, such as hikes through the woods, beachcombing and biking around the neighborhood. Even a s’mores party or a barbecue meal in your backyard can be an adventure in itself! Your children will see the world through different eyes and you will benefit from their wonder-filled perspective.
- Introduce your children to meal preparation based on their age. Younger children can mix batter, for example, while the older kids can chop ingredients, cook and bake, and assist in other kitchen chores. Not only will helping out in the kitchen teach them basic life skills and responsibility but it will keep their FOMO at bay.
- Assign household chores based on their age, capacity and interests, too. You will not only get a much-needed break from the humdrum of household chores but you’re also giving them productive distractions. Think of doing the dishes, washing the laundry, and cleaning their bedrooms.
- Sign up your children for lessons and camp, if possible. Art classes, swimming and tennis, and sports camps are a few examples. You may even be able to sign up for free classes in your community.
- Create a challenge for your children to achieve. The challenge can be as silly as making the most jumps on a pogo stick or as serious yet fun as building a treehouse. The more challenging it is – at least, for their age – the more time they will spend on it and, thus, the less screen time they will crave.
In short, the trick is in getting kids distracted away from their screens and encouraging them to turn their attention to off-screen activities. The distraction and attention trick actually works! But nobody said it will be easy either so patience, perseverance and practice are a must.
While smartphones, tablets and computers as well as televisions have their uses, these can be harmful to your children’s overall health! Excessive screen time not only takes away from physical activities but also decreases family time, both in terms of quantity and quality. You and your children can become prisoners of technology, and it’s never a good thing to be a prisoner of any kind.
You, as parents, must then take decisive and deliberate steps in keeping your children off digital screens because it’s your responsibility. Start today and take the first step in the right direction of a better family life!