Do you need to reduce your kids’ screen time?
Recently I heard a rumour that some mums haven’t fallen into the screen time trap as heavily as others. Sadly, I can’t relate to that. At all.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a total hater of the screens. I see some benefits, such as:
- Jackson is learning to navigate the iPad
- We do YouTube kids yoga together
- I have a couple of educational apps that are helping teach Everley concepts such as colour and shape
- There are some fun, interesting, educational shows that I’m more than happy for them to watch
- Family movie night
While I am always mindful of screen time for my kiddos, it’s definitely something that has crept deeper and deeper into the fabric of our day-to-day. And while I’m not completely guilt-ridden over the fact that our reliance on screen time is a bit more than the times recommended by the AAP and WHO, I’m definitely conscious of it. I’m interested in finding simple ways to naturally cut back on screens a bit more.
A few months ago, we got Jackson into a terrible screen habit.
He’s an early riser (between 5am and 5.30am EVERY DAY) and to buy ourselves a bit more sleep, we would hand him one of our phones. So he would snuggle up between us in our bed, his eyes glued to a tiny phone screen, and that would be the start of his day. Almost every day.
After a few months of this though, my wish for a bit more sleep was trumped by the uneasy feeling I had that this was a pretty awful cycle to get stuck into. So we gave him a bit of warning, and then we introduced a new rule – phones on weekend mornings only.
Was it hard limiting my kid’s screen time?
Heck yeah it was. If you think he took the news well, you would be mistaken! For at least three weeks he would burst into our room at his usual time, politely request a phone, and just about scream the house down each time we reminded him that “Sorry Jackson, it’s not the weekend. No phone this morning.” It was especially bad on Mondays and Tuesdays, when he’d just had his permitted two mornings of phone time over the weekend.
But it got better.
After about three weeks, he suddenly seemed to accept the new rule. Instead of coming to us and asking for a phone, he would head out to the living room and play with his toys first thing in the morning.
And then came a bonus we hadn’t planned for when we reduced his screen time.
He stopped asking for the phone most weekend mornings too! His new habit of heading out to play became more enjoyable to him, and now that’s generally what he does most mornings.
We still use screen time a bit too much. We’re far from perfect! But it was awesome to see that with a bit of tough love, we were able to break that morning screen addiction pattern.
If you’re looking for ways to reduce your kids to a healthy level of screen time, read on!
Reducing kids’ screen time can be HARD… especially if your kids are exhibiting signs of screen addiction. But don’t lose hope! It’s definitely possible to rein in screen time, and the whole family will benefit immensely from the change.
Here are my seven tips for reducing kids’ screen time:
1. Prepare yourself
Go into this battle (yes, battle) mentally strong. Empower yourself by bracing yourself for the tantrums, whinging, frustration, begging and bargaining before you even get there. Remember: you are the parent. You have the authority to make choices on behalf of your children, especially ones that will benefit them in the long run.
2. Set a specific screen time-related goal
Be clear, in your mind, on exactly what you plan to achieve. “Reduce screen time” isn’t a specific enough goal. “Cutting TV sessions down to just once per day” or “Reducing iPad use down to 30 minutes in the morning”? Those goals will tell you exactly what you’re working towards.
3. Be consistent
Lay down rules, communicate them clearly to your kids, and then stick with them. Inconsistency, especially at the start of the journey, will confuse your kids and give them a foothold you don’t want them to have! If you’re lenient one day and try to be strict the next, your kids are going to remember the previous day’s leniency and fight even harder when you put your foot down.
4. Provide alternative activities
At least in the beginning, a reduction in screen time may mean that your kids will look to you for alternative ways of being entertained. Encourage independent play, but also offer simple activities, outside play, and special playtime with you. The more engaged they are in what they’re doing, the less concerned they’ll be about the loss of their precious screens.
5. Out of sight, out of mind
If your child’s screen of choice is in their peripheral, it can become a trigger. So keep the screens out of sight when you don’t want them in use. Store the iPad in a dresser drawer. Put your phone up on a kitchen shelf. If possible, keep the TV somewhere that isn’t a major hub of the home. Or hide the remote, so older kids can’t turn it on themselves.
6. Set timers for allowed blocks of screen time
My phone timer is seriously a parenting secret weapon! It might not work for all kids, but Jackson (for the most part) respects and adheres to the timer in most situations. I think it’s kind of like a neutral third party – he can trust it not to sneakily try and cut his time short. He even likes to set it himself via Siri, which involves him in the process.
7. Show them what a healthy relationship with screens looks like
Ah, I know. It’s a tough one if, like me, you’re addicted to a good ol’ scroll while the kids play at your feet. But for real – one of the most effective ways to teach your kids about healthy screen usage is by modeling it yourself. Show them that you don’t rely on your phone to entertain you a hundred times a day. Help them understand that TV is a special treat for you – not a daily habit.
Putting limits on screen time is going to play out differently for every family.
Your kids might handle it better than you predict. Or they might blow up into a proportion so extreme, you’re left curled in a ball on the bathroom floor. Kids with proper screen addiction are going to have a really tough time, and it will be hard for you to watch, knowing how easy it would be to just cave in and flick a power button for both their sake and yours.
But trust me – that temporary relief of giving in “just this once” will be far outweighed when, at a point in the not-too-distant future, screens no longer have that irresistible grip on them.
And hey – while you’re overhauling your kids’ screen time habits, why not address your own?
Just sayin’ (wink wink). So many of us could benefit from reducing our screen activities! Just think of all the extra minutes you would have up your sleeve for other stuff. A few minutes spent scrolling on Facebook could be a few minutes spent reading a book. A night of mindless TV bingeing could be a night of scrapbooking family photos. Reaching for your phone before you crawl out of bed could be reaching for your Bible instead.
I hope you feel encouraged to start the process of reducing your kids’ screen time to a level you’re happy with!
And remember that healthy screen usage will look different for absolutely every family. So don’t compare your family to another, and don’t feel guilty for any screen time that you have consciously decided to allow your kids to enjoy.
You’re an epic mum who wants the best for her family. I know it, and I bet you know it too.
Let me know in the comments what screen time looks like in your family. Have you tried limiting it before, or is this going to be a first-time challenge for you?