Tips on How to Effectively Manage Your Children’s Screen Time

Mother and son using tablet pc

Although the mission of raising children into able and responsible adults hasn’t changed over the generations, the context certainly has. This is the first generation of parents to be challenged with raising children in the digital age. The screen has become a child’s go-to place for cool content. It is where their friends are, where home work gets done, and so on. Parents are faced with the challenge on how best to prepare their children to thrive in a world that is far different from theirs.  But exactly how much is too much screen time? If your preschool age child is consuming more than four hours of digital media per day, changes have to be made. The younger the child, the lower that number should be.  Here are a few tips on how to effectively limit screen time of children to make room for real-world experiences.

        1. Avoid extreme limits.

1Too much of nothing is just as bad as too much of something. Avoid extreme limits when it comes to screen time. Setting limits that are difficult to enforce, such as two weeks of no TV or computer, may only tempt the parents to give in after a few days. Never threaten to take away media unless you’re actually ready to do so.  Similarly, allowing a child to use the tablet or computer for at least 30 minutes is more advisable than giving him 5 minutes of screen time.  Such short time may only lead your child to want it even more. Reasonable and moderate limits are key.

2. Do it in stages and plan ahead.

If media consumption and screen time are already on an all-time high in your home, discuss changes that are going to take place in advance.  Listen and sympathize with your children as they moan, but stick to the plan nonetheless. Do not make sudden drastic changes.  You can start by cutting down an hour a week.  Avoid using the television as background noise and keep televisions and computers in high traffic areas of the house and certainly not in their bedrooms.

 3.  Create a screen time budget.

When parents create rules and limits about TV and computers, children usually listen.  Some families have had success using screen time budgets.  If kids know exactly how much time they are allowed to use media each day, they will make thoughtful choices about how to use that time.  Younger children are also less likely to throw a fit when rules and budget limits are set clearly from the onset.

4. Use screen time as a reward.

Mother and daughter sitting on washing machine using tablet

Children can earn screen time by engaging in productive, creative, or charitable real-world activities.  For example, parents can let their kids earn half an hour of screen time for every hour spent entertaining a younger sibling or helping with some house chores. Screen time can be a prize for creating an original storybook or an incentive for completing ones homework without any prodding.  This type of reward system can reinforce positive behaviour while giving your children engaging and fulfilling real-world experiences to balance their online ones.

5. Don’t use mobile gadgets during meal time.

Fifty years ago, no parent would tolerate a child answering the phone five times during a meal. Texting or playing while eating should still be considered inappropriate table conduct.  Family meals give children an opportunity to have conversations with adults, as well as to pick up on how adults are using words with each other.  It provides opportunity to bond, model good behavior, and enhance your young one’s vocabulary.   Media free time during meal time means no hand-held games for kids and mobile phones for grown-ups.  This sends a clear message that human connections are valued more than electronic media.

Parents and children (4-5) enjoying garden party

6. Set a good example

Children learn more by example than words.  Make sure you don’t spend too much time watching television or surfing the net.  If they see you doing it, they are more likely to copy and not stick to the agreement.  If you don’t want your child to stay up playing Candy Crush, then you should also keep away from social media while in bed. Setting a good example on when to use the device would certainly help children realize that some parts of the day are not meant for play.

Father and son playing superhero

Regulating your child’s screen time may cause some conflicts, but stick to your guns.  Multi-screen living is here to stay and can be great sources of valuable information and entertainment. Exposure to technology should no longer be an all-or-nothing proposition.   As with all things, moderation is key.

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