How to Limit Screen Time, Fairly

July 19th, 2016 by

chlid with electronic touch deviceLast week we wrote about the impact of screen time on little ones, which can affect not just their attention spans, but also their language development, motor control, and eyesight. Understandably, parents and caregivers are worried about how to monitor their children’s access to mobile devices, computers, and tablets—especially in an age in which these items are ubiquitous.

Depending on your child’s age, some strategies for restricting screen time will work better than others. For instance, when the kids are very young, the best thing you can do is be a good role model and limit your own screen time in their presence. As anyone who has been around a toddler knows, they’re endless imitators; if they see you doing something, chances are you’ll catch them doing the same thing sooner rather than later.

For older children, many parents and caregivers have found basic reward systems to work well. It’s a good way to teach them the value of working to earn the things they want. For instance, you might use a simple chore chart, and allot a specific number of minutes of screen time that each chore is worth. Then, when they complete their chores without being asked, allow the kids whatever amount of TV/computer/tablet time they’ve earned. (Pro tip: it’s a good idea to make sure the number of allotted minutes add up to no more than 2 hours—the AAP recommended guideline for kids.)

The reading reward system is a great way to ensure they’re learning and developing skills while earning screen time, too. It also comes with the added benefit of not inadvertently teaching the kids that doing chores should earn them something other than a cleaner home; that’s a harsh lesson to have to unlearn in adulthood! The reading reward system works much the same way as the chore reward system, except screen time is allotted for a certain amount of time spent reading a book of their choice. When they give their children a reading ultimatum—say, one hour of reading equals 30 minutes of TV or computer time—many parents report that much of the time their kids will get lost in the book and forget all about the screens.

Likewise, you can do the same with exercise—one hour playing outside with their siblings or neighbors, or practicing a sport, equals 30 minutes of screen time. (Take note, though, parents of tech-savvy kids: Pokémon Go should not count as this kind of outdoor exercise!) Most of the time, you’ll find that if kids are engaged and out in the world, they won’t want to come inside.

Another important question facing parents is this: when you’ve set a limit on screen time, how do you make sure the kids stick to it? The best and simplest way is to remove the technological devices whenever they aren’t supposed to be in use. However, this can be difficult with larger items, such as televisions and desktop computers. Many TVs come with child protection controls, such as the kinds to block inappropriate programming; additionally, you can ensure the remote is kept in a place your children can’t reach. Computers and tablets can be set with passwords that parents must type in for kids to use; we recommend these be changed fairly frequently to avoid the kids figuring them out and using the computer or tablet without your knowledge.

Remember, kids today are growing up in a digital world. If you need to amend the guidelines to fit your family, or if every day isn’t perfect, try not to feel too guilty. The crucial lesson is not that all children should avoid screens; it’s that parents and caregivers need to teach them to use technology wisely and responsibly. Feel free to visit our Pinterest for more screen time regulation ideas, and contact us today if you’re a parent in need of a professional and technology-conscious caregiver!