It seems like everywhere we look children have their face inches from a screen. Whether they’re at home, in a restaurant, or even in a stroller, that electronic glow lighting up their faces has become disturbingly familiar. If you’ve tried to limit a child’s device usage, you understand why many experts say that screens can be as addictive as hard drugs. Unless you’re prepared to put the kibosh on screens altogether, you need to set parameters so your child isn’t glued to a device every waking moment. Here are five ways to manage your kids’ screen time:
1. Get Familiar
But before you start setting limits, get into the habit of checking the device your child uses to see what they’re watching and playing. Most devices have parental controls–set them so your child can’t order any app or game they want, and filter out content that isn’t age-appropriate. As your child gets older, he will probably fight you on restrictions, saying that his friends are following someone on YouTube or playing such-and- such video game. Too bad. Set your limits and stick to them.
2. Screen-Free Zones
Establish areas at home where screens are not allowed, like the breakfast/dinner table, in bed, and, yes, on the toilet. Also restrict device usage during certain activities, like family and during social engagements. These limits can prevent devices from bleeding into all aspects of family life.
2. Decent Alternatives
Screens can be addictive, yes, but they also relieve boredom. If you are asking your child to put down the device, you should provide decent alternatives, from books to toys, games and crafts. And yes, this might require some participation from you. While screens can occupy your child so that you can cook dinner or catch up on work, you may need to drop what you’re doing, let loose and have some fun with her, dinner be damned.
3. Before This Comes That
We’re not encouraging bribery, necessarily, but if screen time is going to be a point of contention, you might as well get something out of it. If your child wants screen time, make him earn it. First things first. That can mean anything from homework, cleaning his room or reading a book, to physical play or picking out tomorrow’s school clothes.
4. Time Limits
How much time you allow your child to use a device is up to you, but once you decide, stick to your guns. Maybe it’s a half hour a day, or two 20-minute shows. You might need to make exceptions, like sick days or long flights, but otherwise be firm. As they get older, you can consider increasing the time. And you can always allow them to “earn” more time for good behavior or extra chores. Ultimately, screen time should feel like a privilege and not a right. Once your child understands this, you should be on your way to a peaceful relationship with her device.