Is Your Child Glued to Screens: Try These 21 Tips To Manage Screen Time

In the digital age, screens are everywhere, and managing our children’s screen time has become a modern parenting challenge. Here are the top tips for navigating children’s screen time, ensuring that your little ones reap the rewards of technology while developing healthy habits that will serve them well into the future. From setting boundaries to encouraging active engagement, let’s dive into strategies that promote a healthy digital diet for our children.

Establish Clear Boundaries

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One of the most effective ways to manage screen time is by setting clear, consistent boundaries. This could mean designating specific hours of the day for screen use, such as after homework and chores are completed, or limiting screen time on school nights. Communicating these rules to your children is essential, and if your kids are older, you can also explain why you’ve set this rule. For instance, you can explain to your child that too much screen time before bed can interfere with sleep, which is why screens should be turned off an hour before bedtime.

Setting boundaries like these can teach children self control and can also provide a structure that’s useful for them. It’s also crucial to lead by example; if you set screen time rules, make sure that you follow them as well. Consistency reinforces the importance of the rules, and seeing parents abide by the same guidelines can be a powerful motivator for children.

Create a Family Media Plan

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Collaborating with your children to create a family media plan can empower them and give them a sense of ownership over their screen time. Discuss as a family what everyone’s screen time priorities are, such as educational content, entertainment, or staying in touch with family and friends. Then, allocate time accordingly. For example, one hour a day can be spent on educational apps, while half an hour is reserved for video chatting with relatives. This plan should be revisited and adjusted as children grow and their interests and responsibilities change.

Dr. Kathryn Steele at VocoVision recommends creating a family media plan to set expectations for how much screen time is permitted per day. Be sure to include media-free time in your schedule, including both at home and in public, so your child can practice conversational skills.

Encourage Quality Over Quantity

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Not all screen time is created equal. Encourage your children to engage with high-quality content that is educational, interactive, and age-appropriate. Research shows, games and apps your child might be interested in, and look for content that’s both educational and encourages critical thinking and creativity.

For example, you can allow your children screen time for apps that teach coding through interactive play, or to watch documentaries that explore the natural world. When children are engaged with quality content, their screen time can become a valuable learning experience. Watching or playing together when possible is also helpful, as this can lead to discussions and further learning opportunities.

Active Participation

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Not all screen time is bad, according to Dr. Steele, who says children are more affected by what they view versus how much time they spend on screens. She says, “While active screen time requires cognitive or physical engagement, passive screen time does not engage the child in an interactive way. Reading a book on a device is active, while scrolling through social media posts is passive.”

Encourage activities that require active participation, such as age-appropriate video games that promote problem-solving skills or educational programs that ask questions and encourage viewers to respond. For example, some apps and games involve creating music, drawing, or building virtual worlds, which can stimulate creativity and strategic thinking. When children actively participate, they’re not just consuming content but also developing skills and thinking critically.

Balance Screen Time with Other Activities

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It’s crucial to ensure that screen time doesn’t dominate your children’s day. Encourage diverse activities that promote physical, social, and cognitive development. Physical play, outdoor time, reading, hobbies, and face-to-face interactions are all essential for a child’s growth.

Encourage your child to spend time outdoors or engage in a creative activity like drawing or building with blocks after screen time. This helps prevent the potential adverse effects of excessive screen time, such as eye strain or sedentary behavior, and promotes a well-rounded lifestyle. The goal is to integrate screen time into a varied daily routine that includes plenty of opportunities for your child to explore the world differently.

Parental Controls and Monitoring Tools

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Take advantage of most devices and platforms’ parental controls and monitoring tools. These tools can help you enforce the screen time rules you’ve set, block inappropriate content, and track your children’s online activities.

In apps like Youtube for example, you can set up profiles with age-appropriate settings for each child, limiting access to certain content that you deem inappropriate for their age. However, you should be transparent with your children about using these tools, and explain to them the reason you are using such tools. You can let them know that you’re using monitoring tools to keep them safe and help the family stick to the agreed-upon media plan.

Model Healthy Screen Habits

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Children often emulate the behaviors they see in adults, especially their parents. Make a conscious effort to demonstrate healthy screen habits yourself. This means avoiding scrolling through your phone or constantly checking notifications during family meals. Instead, show your children that you value face-to-face communication and that you can enjoy leisure time without a screen. When you do use screens, do so with purpose and be mindful of the content you’re engaging with. By setting this example, you’re teaching your children that while technology is useful, it shouldn’t overshadow personal interactions and real-world experiences.

Encourage Educational Use

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Guide your children toward using screen time for educational purposes. Many high-quality educational apps, websites, and games are designed to make learning fun and interactive. These can be especially useful for reinforcing their learning in school or exploring new interests.

For example, if your child is interested in space, find an app that allows them to interactively learn about the solar system. Educational screen time can greatly supplement traditional learning methods and help children develop a love for learning.

Set Screen-Free Zones and Times

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Establish certain areas of the house, such as bedrooms and the dining room, as screen-free zones. Likewise, designate screen-free times, such as during family meals or an hour before bedtime. These policies encourage children to associate specific spaces and times with other activities and relaxation, helping them to disconnect from screens and engage in different forms of recreation. This separation also helps prevent screens from becoming a crutch for boredom and encourages children to seek other ways to entertain and soothe themselves.

Limit Screen Time Before Bed

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Circadian rhythms can be affected by screentime, therefore screentime should be avoided before bed. “Do not allow screens an hour before bedtime. Even a few minutes of usage can alter a child’s melatonin release, altering their body’s circadian rhythm,” says Dr. Steele. Distorted circadian rhythms can create difficulties in children’s ability to get restful sleep, which is necessary for brain development.

Discuss Online Safety

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As you navigate screen time with your children, it’s essential to have ongoing conversations about online safety. Talk to them about the importance of keeping personal information private, the risks of talking to strangers online, and what to do if they encounter something that makes them uncomfortable. Encourage them to come to you with any questions or concerns about what they encounter online. You can help your children become more discerning and safer technology users by fostering an open and trusting dialogue.

Teach Media Literacy

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As your children grow older, teaching them media literacy is crucial in an era of misinformation and digital manipulation. Discuss how to critically evaluate the credibility of online sources and the content they consume. Explain how images and videos can be altered and why it’s essential to question the intent behind media messages. Encourage them to think about who created the content, why, and whether it’s meant to inform, entertain, or persuade. Media literacy skills will not only help them navigate their screen time more wisely, they will also equip themselves with the critical thinking skills to navigate the broader world of information they’re exposed to.

Manage Screen Time Based On Age

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Vocovision experts say screen time should be managed based on a child’s age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no exposure for infants, one hour a day for children ages two to five, and parental discretion for children six and up. Dr. Steele explains, “If parents notice that a child’s grades are slipping, they are becoming withdrawn, or they lose interest in other activities, screen time is probably too much.”

Use Screen Time as a Reward

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Screen time can be used as a positive reinforcement for good behavior, completing chores, or achieving personal goals. Using it as a reward can help your child understand that screen time is a privilege, not a right. This approach can also help your child develop better time management skills as they learn to complete necessary tasks before enjoying the reward of screen time. However, it’s important to ensure that screen time is one of many reward systems in place, as this could inadvertently elevate its perceived value above other activities and rewards.

Participate in Screen Time Together

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Engage in screen time activities with your children. This could mean playing a video game together, watching a movie, or exploring an educational app. This allows you to monitor the content they’re exposed to and allows you to have quality time together. Shared screen time can lead to discussions about the content, which can be educational for both of you. It also shows your children that you’re interested in their interests and that screen time can be a communal, rather than solitary, activity.

Encourage Breaks and Physical Activity

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Long periods of screen time can lead to physical discomfort and contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. Encourage your children to take regular breaks to stretch, walk around, or engage in physical activity. You might implement a rule such as a 5-minute break every 30 minutes of screen time. This helps prevent eye strain and other physical issues.

Foster Other Interests

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Encourage your children to develop hobbies and interests outside of the digital world. Whether it’s sports, music, art, reading, or exploring nature, having diverse interests can help children form a well-rounded identity and reduce reliance on screens for entertainment. Support their efforts to pursue these interests by providing the necessary resources and time. When children are engaged in fulfilling activities, they are less likely to default to screen time out of boredom.

If your child is interested in painting, for example, you may want to set up a small art station where they can freely express their creativity. If they enjoy sports, ensure they have the opportunity to play and practice regularly.

Discuss Content and Share Opinions

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After your child has engaged with screen time, take the opportunity to discuss the content they’ve consumed. Ask them what they thought about it, how it made them feel, and whether they learned anything new. This practice encourages reflection and critical thinking. It also provides valuable insight into your child’s preferences and the impact of screen content on their emotions and thoughts. Through these discussions, you can guide your child to become more selective and thoughtful about the media they consume.

Limit Multitasking During Screen Time

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Many children (and adults) fall into the trap of using multiple screens simultaneously, such as watching TV while playing on a tablet or texting. Encourage your child to focus on one screen and activity at a time. This helps promote deeper engagement and comprehension of the content they interact with and can improve concentration. Multitasking can lead to fragmented attention and reduce the quality of the screen time experience.

Make Screen Time Social

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While it’s essential to monitor and limit screen time, it’s also valuable to recognize that screens can be a tool for socialization. Encourage your children to use technology to connect with friends and family, especially those far away.

No-Screen Activity Menu

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When screens are removed, many children don’t know how to spend their time. Creating an activity menu provides them with options for replacement behaviors. Dr. Steele says, “List preferred activities, or those that are acceptable so that they will have choices other than screens.”

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