There are some parenting topics that make parents automatically squirm when you raise them – they start to talk in a conspiratorial tone, voices get hushed, they lean in and they act like they’re about to tell you they’re actually an axe murderer. The parent will then whisper something potentially perceived as far worse – ‘I have a confession… I use the iPad as a babysitter.’
Screen time is one of those things that’s a huge part of our everyday life but can be so divisive when discussed. Many mums and dads feel a massive amount of guilt for allowing their kids to be entertained by a screen but know full well how useful it can be – especially when used as a distraction for older kids while dealing with their younger siblings, or to keep kids occupied on a road or plane trip.
Experts have stated that there should be no screen time for kids under the age of two, and for older kids no more than 1 hour a day. Whether or not this is achievable for most mere mortal parents is another story. But you don’t need to go 100% cold turkey and banish screen time as, of course, it can be a life saver at times. What you can do instead, is manage screen time so that it becomes less of a focus in your family, and debate around the rules is diffused.
Set time limits – this is a great way to break down usage and discourage prolonged periods of use. If you’re allowing your kid an hour a day of screen usage, then try splitting that overall time into smaller time periods. For example, you could trial implementing a strategy where they use their screen for only 20 minutes at a time and after that they have to stop for a break and do something else.
Help your kids choose quality shows and games – have a chat to your kids about what they’re watching or playing on their tablet, and discuss which of them is a better use of their screen time. Some parents swear by creating a hierarchy of content – can non-educational ‘fun’ games be saved for special occasions and targeted learning programmes, such as arithmetic or spelling games be prioritised for everyday use?
Join kids for screen time – rather than letting kids see their screen as a solo activity, try getting in on the action and making it a team event. Watching and playing together makes the activity much more sociable and also means that when siblings are involved there are less fights over who has the next turn on the iPad!
Set an example – If you keep your face buried in your phone – something we’re all guilty of at times – then, (no surprises) your kids won’t see a good reason why they should get off their screens. It’s more often than not a case of ‘Monkey see, monkey do’!
Be the Parent – It’s our job to encourage healthy behaviours and limit unhealthy ones, and sometimes this means you have to be the world’s biggest ogre and make unpopular decisions. When making these tough decisions for your kids always go the next step of explaining why you’ve made the decision – this will help them understand, follow through on the advice and someday maybe even choose the solution for themselves.
The important thing to remember is that screens aren’t always bad and in a pinch can save the day – but moderation of screen time is key for your kids’ healthy development and ensuring they stay active.