Tips for Managing Screen Time That’s Out of Control
8 ways to get your family life back in balance
Quick, how many hours a day does the average kid spend on TV, video games, computer time, smart phones and other screens?
A. 2 hours a day
B. 5 hours a day
C. 7 hours a day
If you said “C,” you’re right. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kids are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media — way too much, according to the AAP and just about every other child health group you can name.
Studies show that excessive media use is linked to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders and obesity, so reigning in screen time is uber-important. But how do we do that?
Here are some tips from experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help you manage media madness.
1. Figure out how long you’re on screens each day. Here’s a handy Screen Time Chart from the NIH to help you find out — and to see whether you need to limit your kids’ screen time (or your own).
2. Set limits together. Have a family meeting to talk about media use and limits. “We recommend that parents involve kids in setting screen time rules,” says Sierra Filucci, executive editor of parenting content at Commonsense Media, an organization designed to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. “Ultimately, you want kids who can self-regulate, and it’s the parents’ role to help them with that,” Filucci says.
Different families have different needs, but AAP guidelines discourage any TV or entertainment media for kids under two and suggest limiting screen time to 1 to 2 hours a day for older kids. The NIH also suggests limiting screen time for older kids to 2 hours a day and sticking to it.
3. Make meals a family time. Make breakfast and dinner a tech-free zone. This way, kids will know they can have your undivided attention at the table. Make mealtimes a time to talk with kids about their day, their friends and what’s going on in their life. Studies show that kids who take part in regular family meals are less likely to show symptoms of depression, according to a Cornell University overview on family meals.
4. Model by example. Kids will imitate what they see, so
don’t text your boss during dinner or catch up on emails during your child’s
soccer game. And avoid using screens as a babysitter or as a reward. If you
offer screen time as a reward, kids may value it even more, according to the NIH.
"Use screens as
tools, not as treats,” Filucci advises.
5. Build in time for talk and play. Make time for play, conversation, creativity and family a priority, suggests AAP experts. Plan fun outings like a bike ride or skating. Focus on what interests your kids, whether it’s sports, dance or music. And remember, it’s OK for kids to be bored sometimes — researchers say it fosters creativity.
6. Set up other screen-free zones. Besides the dinner table, make bedrooms screen-free zones. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, kids with a TV in their room watch 1.5 hours more per day than their peers without the bedrooms screens. “It’s too tempting for kids to check their texts or emails,” says Filucci, “and the blue light of the screen has been shown to interfere with sleep.” Some experts suggest making cars screen-free zones as well.
7. Take a tech time-out. Try having the whole family give up screens for a day. Take a walk, break out the board games, play ping-pong. If you can hardly stand to be away from your smartphone, you may need to deal with your own cellphone addiction.
8. Accompany your kids on their digital adventures. Let’s face it: It’s hard to keep up with our little digital natives, so we often give up trying. But experts recommend joining your kids on their media turf.
Show an interest in your children’s digital activities — even seven-year-olds probably have a thing or two to teach you. Let your teen to show you how to use the latest social media app and play a video game with your tween. And feel free to talk about the media and advertising, including what an ad is really saying and what it wants you to think or do.
“It’s great for parents to engage in active discussions about any media their kids are involved with,” says Filucci. “It’s an opportunity for parents to share family values and help kids think through what they’re seeing.”
Related: 7 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe Online