Helping Kids Manage Screen Time: 5 Tips for Parents
Screens are everywhere now. Televisions, computers, tablets, smartphones, smart watches, game stations, and even more surround us at home, at work, and in restaurants, shopping centers, schools, and vehicles.
While this technology has brought many positive benefits, it also poses risks. High screen time use is associated with:
- Negative changes in vision
- Depressed and/or anxious mood
- Lack of exercise
- Weight increase
- Poor sleep
Even the National Institutes of Health is recommending that screen time for kids be limited to no more than two hours daily.1 But if your child’s screen time viewing is average, then he or she is probably spending way too many hours daily in front of some sort of screen.
So how can parents help their children adopt healthier use? Here are five good tips:
1. Evaluate first
Most families have no idea how much time family members are spending in front of screens. The first step to reducing screen time is to know your starting point. Try engaging the entire family in gathering this knowledge.
Explain to your kids that “screen time” includes TV, videos, video games, computers, tablets, smart phones, and smart watches so everyone knows what to include.
Although there are apps to help you track this, why not start the commitment to reducing time by using a paper log that simply keeps track of hours (older kids can do this themselves). A few days should be enough to tell you how much time everyone is spending doing what.
2. Set reasonable goals
Rather than trying to cut a lot of hours at once, try cutting in smaller increments – like two hours a week or 20 minutes a day. Using small increments of time to reach your goal will make it seem a lot more manageable.
3. Rewards help
Because we all like to be rewarded for our achievements, rewarding kids for reduced screen time can turn something that initially seems like a punishment into a positive experience.
But resist rewarding reduced screen time with a video game! Instead, consider non-digital rewards like money, gift cards, or eating at a favorite restaurant.
4. Have alternatives available
Especially if you have younger children, presenting them with non-digital alternatives is a big part of the solution. Plan outings and playdates, go to a local park, or walk a trail. Look at the resources in your community for sports, music, and art – many of which can be experienced for free or low cost.
Plan and cook a meal together or check out Pinterest for cool home art and craft projects.
Many volunteer organizations love to have families help out – serve food at a local shelter, help stock a local food pantry, collect litter from a park or beach, or walk dogs at the local shelter.
5. Be a role model
Sometime as a parent it’s easy to forget that kids (regardless of age) are greatly influenced by what you do. A 2015 study in the Journal of Obesity found that, while encouragement and support helped to reduce the use of digital media and devices, parental modeling was more powerful by far, especially in young children.2
If you can effectively reduce your own use of your television, computer, and cell phone, then you are likely to see your kids reduce their time too.
- Reduce screen time. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/reduce-screen-time/ [accessed May 16, 2019]
- Xu H, Wen L, Rissel C. Associations of parental influences with physical activity and screen time among young children: a systematic review. J Obes 2015;2015. doi: 10.1155/2015/546925