7 Tips for Managing Screen Time for All Ages
These days our need to be connected means that a screen is always nearby. Even the youngest ages gravitate towards screens because they see us using them and want to be just like mom and dad. It’s important for kids to understand how our need to work and collaborate with colleagues via our screens differs from the time they want to spend watching videos, streaming shows, and gaming, and can create a tug of war. In homes filled with gaming systems, tablets, smartphones, desktop, and laptop computers, managing screen time can be tricky and this seemingly endless battle is one that all parents face—but here are seven tips to help make it a bit less challenging.
It’s hard to get mad at our kids for always wanting screen time when they see us on our devices constantly. Model the expectations you expect from your kids by being the first to acknowledge that it’s time to unplug and put down your phone, tablet, or laptop. Chances are, when you’re more available to have face to face interactions without a screen between you, they’ll be more inclined to do the same...
Not All Screen Time is the Same
There’s a difference between passive media that is watched and interactive media that engages kids and teaches lessons while it’s being used. Understanding the difference between the two and knowing what your kids are doing when they’re in front of a screen is important. I am much more lenient about screen time when what my kids (ages 9 and 12) are doing is contributing to their learning or creative processes.
Different Ages Use Screens in Different Ways
There is a big difference between the way toddlers and teens use technology. Toddlers and preschoolers who aren’t quite reading spend a majority of time in front of screens consuming content. While there are highly educational shows that can help reinforce beginning math, reading, and social and emotional skills, parents of these ages need to be mindful of the time that kids are sitting and watching content versus interacting with it via an educational app or game. Interactive content stimulates the brain in a different way, so it’s important to provide both passive and interactive screen time, especially if they’re educational in nature.
Older kids who are increasingly savvy users of technology might be using their device to collaborate through a video chat with friends about a homework problem, express their creativity through digital content creation tools like drawing apps and software programs, reading an eBook version of their English assignment or textbook on an eReader or tablet, or logging on to a class portal to complete an assignment or check on their grade. In addition to these constructive uses of screens for learning, they could also be creating online worlds, playing video games with friends over the network, or sharing bits of their lives through social media.
Learn What Your Kids Are Doing When They’re Having Screen Time
Not all screen time is bad and it’s important to distinguish between the activities your children are doing with your screens before passing judgment or simply insisting they put down their devices. Understanding what kids are doing when they’re in front of screens is important not only from a safety perspective, but also because asking them questions opens the door to a conversation that can help you better understand their technology-filled world.
Create Household Rules
Instead of throwing down the gauntlet, it’s important to take time to talk about your family’s use of technology and develop rules together. Doing this helps ensure that every voice is heard and your rules make sense for your family. Kids of all ages are more inclined to abide by technology rules if they feel like they’ve had some input in their creation.
While I do prefer to create technology rules together, there are times where I have to lay down the law and enforce our family rules. Remember that you’re the grownup and that being in charge of the house comes with privileges, including making sure that other members abide by the ground rules they agreed to and enforcing any harsh consequences that comes with violating them.
Nurture Interests Beyond the Screen
Just as we want our kids to eat a balanced diet with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, we also want them to be well-rounded in life. Capitalize on their current interests beyond the screen and find activities and materials that will foster them. For toddlers and preschoolers, this might mean adding elements to your backyard to create a more interesting play space. Water tables, sand boxes, shovels for digging, swings, makeshift play forts made with sheets for walls, and slides can provide gross motor experiences and inspire imaginative play. Encourage your elementary-aged child’s love of their favorite subject by doing a deeper dive into a topic they’re interested in. Seek out after-school activities or classes that your tween or teen can do independently to nurture their interests.
All in Moderation
One of the most helpful tips to remember is to take a step back and not look at the amount of screen time your kids have in a day but over the course of the week. I bet by doing so, you’ll find that while some days have heavier uses of digital devices than others, certain days Just as we want our kids to eat balanced meals diet that contain all the food groups and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, we also want them to be well rounded in life.
Managing screen time doesn’t have to be a battle if we can acknowledge that screens can be helpful, while teaching our kids there is a time and place for their use by modeling the kinds of behavior we expect to see.
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About the author:
Leticia is the founder of TechSavvyMama.com, an award-winning site where she incorporates her experience as a parent and background as an educator to provide useful advice for families about the technology tools that have become a part of their lives. She also shares her expertise as a educational consultant, columnist, freelance writer, media personality, and speaker. Leticia lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband, two children, enthusiastic Yellow Labrador, and three mostly free-range hens. Follow Leticia on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @TechSavvyMama.