Things have changed a lot since we were kids. Do you remember leaving the house in the morning after a large bowl of fruit loops, knowing that the only rule you needed to follow was to be back again before the street lamps came on? Maybe I’m showing my age, but those were good days. Full of fresh air, friends, adventures, and dirty feet. These days feel very different. Our kids don’t leave the house in the morning to meet friends- they get online. Although this is all they’ve known, I can’t help but feel sad for the kids who sit on screen all day long.
So, I started looking for tips to limit screen time this summer.
They’re not having adventures, digging up worms, or kissing boys under the bleachers. Instead, it has me worried for them. So, I’ve decided my kids will have at least a little bit of the summers I had. But how do I pry them off their screens?
It important to allow them to have an old-fashioned summer, but there is a lot to it. First, of course, we all know the effects of blue light. But screens also impact kids’ behavior; it causes poor sleep, desensitizes the reward system, and can cause aggression, addiction, and much more.
It is well-established that the abundant access to programming and online content can negatively impact SACA (school-aged children and adolescents) including exposure to risky lifestyle behaviors (e.g., unhealthy food, beverage and alcohol consumption) through marketing and advertising, issues of “digital dependency” or screen addiction, as well as, risks of exposure to cyberbullying, age-inappropriate and violent content, or sexual exploitation. Because of these concerns, both American and Canadian Pediatric Societies issued a recommendation of no more than 2 hours per day of screen time in SACA.
We don’t want to deny our kids the use of devices; we simply want to teach and promote the healthy use of devices. It is 2022, and devices are a part of our lives for everyone- there is no getting around it. But it’s important that our kids understand its negative impacts so they can grow up using tech responsibly.
Every family is different, and every family will have different schedules and priorities, so you must find what works best for you and your family dynamic. Here are tips to limit screen time, but remember that you can choose which tip fits best with your family. Try something out, adapt it to work for you, or combine strategies until you find a good fit.
Here are ways to limit screen time; take what strategy you need:
1) Our hard rule: No screens at the dinner table.
In our family, this is totally unacceptable, and the rule applies to everyone. No exceptions. This rule has always been in place, so we’ve never had issues enforcing it. It’s a time for my family to reconnect (even if just for a half-hour). We touch base and regroup before going our own ways again. This time is crucial to my family dynamic; screens at our table will never be welcome.
2) Screen-free day
Pick one day a week where no screens are allowed. Let’s say Saturday. Plenty of other activities are happening on the weekends, so distracting them from their devices will be easier than a day when parents are busy working or have fewer distractions.
3) Limit the hours
Cut back on the hours that screens are allowed. How you do this will need to be decided by you. Some families like to turn off the wifi after dinner. We find this doesn’t work in our house. This is the time my teens want to connect with their friends. It’s when their friends are primarily online and making plans. If we restrict hours- it’s during the day. Once chores are done, activities have been completed, they’ve got some exercise and accomplished something before being allowed to veg out with a device.
One key thing to remember as the parent- it’s so easy to get distracted and forget to limit the hours. Before you know it, you’ve allowed 3 hours of screens- you need to keep close tabs on the time because your kids certainly won’t alert you to exceeding the time limit!
4) Never right before bed
Despite saying our kids have devices in the evening, it’s important to note they DO NOT keep the device in their rooms overnight, and we make sure they put the device away an hour before bed. Teens and preteens need sleep- they’re still developing, and a lack of sleep can significantly impact their wellbeing. Devices go into the dining room to charge an hour before bed (they usually sneak some TV, which I suppose is also a screen… but as I said, nobody is perfect). Here are some of the impacts blue light has on tweens and teens.
5) Don’t take screens away as a consequence
This never works. It breeds resentment. Having it, then taking it away makes kids angry. I recall once when my husband removed all screens from the kids because of misbehavior.. on a weekend when he was going away for work. I had to follow through on the consequence (we parent as a united front), but I, too, was resentful because it meant I had little downtime with 2 young kids who were nagging and bored for the weekend. Instead…
6) Use screens as a reward:
Kids and teens like to work towards something, giving screen time as a reward. For example, once homework is complete or chores are done. Once they’ve mowed the lawn or helped empty the dishwasher. They are then free to have some screen time. The opportunity to earn screen time is very motivating for kids.
Over time, you can increase the jobs that need to be completed before screen time is given. Often, going outside for some playtime or exercise for an hour before screens can result in your kids discovering something they didn’t know they loved. Plus, it teaches them accountability.
For example, I send my son outside for an hour of exercise before he can access screens. Then, he meets up with some friends, they start playing basketball, and before we know it- he has been out for over 3 hours. WIN!
7) Lead by example.
We need to check ourselves too, lead by example. Here is one moms account of limiting her screen time.
It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
How long it takes to see a difference will depend on how often your kids use screens and their ages. Suppose you’ve never ever enforced screen rules or discussed screen time’s positives and negatives. In that case, you’ll probably find it harder to implement and have some rough times. But it will be worth it. You need to persevere; you’ll thank yourself when you see the changes in your kids.
It’s all about moderation, don’t cut them off. They’ll have great resentment, and we must remember that screens have benefits and are a way for them to connect with their peer group. Moderation is key, like so many other things in life.
Talk openly with your family about the device and use of tech. Make sure everyone understands the positives and negatives of screen time and its impacts on development. Giving them the info empowers them to make intelligent choices for themselves- our goal as parents is to set them up for success. Make it a part of their own values. Having a plan as a family and working together makes it more rewarding for everyone. It makes the process of limiting screen time less argumentative and more of a fun family challenge. Okay, full disclosure; it won’t always be fun, but it will be worth it.