I’ve had many conversations with fellow parents this year about how their child is addicted to a screen. The child spends all their free time on video games, watching TV, watching YouTube on a tablet, or playing games on some sort of device.
The topic of how to reduce screen time for kids is a controversial one, so I usually just respond “That’s tough” or “It’s so addictive.”
So many of the parents who have this problem feel hopeless about it.
They feel as though it is out of their control.
They genuinely are sad about the situation, but don’t hold any hope of changing it.
This is what I should tell them:
1) You, the Parent, ARE in Control of This.
As long as your child is living under your roof, you are in control of their screen time habits.
It’s your job as a parent to set limits.
Kids need boundaries. They need their parents to tell them to go outside to play. Kids need their parents to parent.
2) Screens are Addictive
It’s no secret that our society has become addicted to screens.
We check our email constantly, easily spend hours on social media, binge watch shows, or play video games late into the night.
Social psychologist Adam Alter says that these activities cause a release of dopamine in our brains that make us feel good in the moment but after a while, we build up a tolerance and want more.
This can lead to incredibly unhealthy habits of spending all day in front of a screen, or staying up late to the detriment of not getting enough sleep.
3) Why Should we Reduce Screen time?
The biggest benefit to reducing screen time is your child’s health.
Screen time promotes sedentary activity. Most of the time, kids are sitting to watch a show or play video games.
By reducing the amount of time they are sitting and increasing the amount of time they are moving, natural health benefits will follow.
In addition, reducing screen time helps socially and academically.
Researchers, like Dr. Douglas Gentile have found that when screen time is reduced, kids sleep better and get better grades.
Kids with limited screen time tend to have less aggression.
Too much screen time has been linked to behavior problems, hyperactivity, obesity, and depression.
4) How to Detox
If your child has become addicted to screens, there will need to be a “detox” period.
Just like any detox, from any type of addiction, it’s not going to be pleasant.
You will need to set strict time limits and enforce them.
I have found that it is easier to schedule screen time at the end of the day. Screen time makes kids cranky, so it is better to have them play, do homework, do chores, or other activities first.
Then, when screen time arrives, let them proceed with the understanding that screen time will end at a certain time. It’s helpful to allow them a 5-10 minute warning before you end screen time.
You probably will encounter tantrums when the time ends, but be firm and consistent.
If you give even an inch, they will push longer and harder. But if you stand firm and don’t budge on your rules, they will eventually stop begging for more time and understand that you mean what you say.
5) What Kind of Boundaries Do You Recommend to Reduce Screen Time?
Personally, I don’t let my kids use my phone, tablet, or computer on a regular basis.
There is the random “we are waiting in a doctor’s office” that I do allow them to use my phone. Otherwise, it’s a quick, “no” when my kids ask to play on my phone. If my children do use any of these devices, it is with permission and with time restrictions.
Our family’s biggest temptation is TV time. I try to limit my kids that are 4 and under to 1 hour a day.
My 9 year old is limited to 1 hour or less on weeknights and 2 hours a day on weekends.
My kids don’t watch TV every day because often we are too busy and I often use TV as my last resort. I like to keep it in my back pocket as long as possible.
I have 4 kids ages 10, 5, 4, and 3 so things can get crazy sometimes and I like to have that option available.
6) What do Your Kids Do Instead?
So, you might be wondering…what on earth do my kids do instead of watching TV or playing video games?
Well, every day I send them out to play in the backyard. Sometimes twice a day. We go out in the heat and in the cold.
There are very few days we don’t go out. I’ve taught them where they are allowed to play in our yard and I often am able to work in our kitchen and watch the kids as I work.
You may not have the option of sending the kids outside to play. But I do encourage you, no matter what your living situation is, to think about what you could do differently to encourage more play and less screen time. (Here’s 50 Ideas for Screen free fun for kids!)
If we are inside and I need to make phone calls or cook supper and the kids are running wild, I give them choices. They can choose to play with certain items in our living room sitting down (read: stop running!) OR they can go play in their rooms for “Room Time.”
7) “My Kid Would Never Do That!”
If you are saying to yourself, “this will never work with my kid,” you need to take a step back and remember a few things.
These things take time.
My kids could play in our backyard for HOURS, but I’ve noticed that other kids that visit our home are “done” playing outside in 15 minutes.
If your kid is done in 15 minutes, that’s ok. Try again tomorrow for 20 minutes, then 25 minutes, then 30.
Keep lengthening the time frame until they have built up stamina. It takes a while for kids to learn to play in different ways.
Boredom is the inventor of creativity.
Also, remember that you are the parent. You are in control. If your child throws a fit, remove privileges.
Don’t feel bad about taking away screens altogether if they balk at reduced screen time.
8) You CAN Reduce Screen Time
Lastly, I want to encourage you as a fellow parent that YOU can do this!
It may take a little extra effort in the beginning, but the benefits far outweigh the work.
It might mean you have to spend more time teaching boundaries or enforcing consequences, but in the end, you child will be healthier both physically and mentally.
I hope this encourages you to take a look at your own family’s screen time habits and perhaps make changes to reduce screen time this year.
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