Let me preface this by letting you in on my one and only parenting motto: DO WHAT WORKS! If you are happy with the screen time in your home, no need to fix what’s not broken. If you are questioning the amount of screen time your children receive and wondering how it might be impacting those little brains, keep reading. When I noticed my 8 year old no longer playing with the toys in his bedroom, but instead watching other children or even adults play with toys on YouTube, I knew we had to make a big change. Screen time was hugely impacting the level of creativity in our household.
As an MSSW who highly values play, it was a huge eye opener to watch my child no longer have a desire to play. Children communicate through play. They make sense of the world through their play. They can express emotions and try out new roles in a safe environment. Children learn empathy and develop social skills through play. They work out their fears and decrease anxiety through play. Play is highly important to the emotional development of a child.
Watching others play on a small screen, instead of actively participating, is like turning off the entire right hemisphere of the brain. When the right side of your brain is damaged, being able to concentrate is extremely difficult. Reasoning and problem solving become a challenge. Obtaining new information and staying organized is an issue. The right side of the brain also helps with appropriate social cues. You can read all about how screen time impacts the brain HERE. In summary, it’s not pretty. There’s a reason why Steve Jobs limited technology for his own kids.
I’ve read many articles and scientific studies on the WHY, but nothing on the HOW. How do we go from unlimited screen time to ripping the iPad out of our children’s hands? Well, I don’t think you have to completely ban it. A lot of it is actually good and many (if not all) jobs in the future will expect our children to understand and use technology. Limit it, restrict it, monitor it. BUT also model and teach appropriate usage so that when they are released into the world they know how to do that for themselves. Here are a few concrete things that we’ve done in our family to reduce screen time and bring back creative, happier and less anxious children.
- Limit screen time to weekends only. Screen time is granted after school on Friday – Sunday in our home. Our iPads remain on top of the fridge, uncharged, until Friday morning. Consistently stick with this rule and it’ll soon become the expectation. You could also switch this rule around to an hour/day on weekdays and no weekend screen time. Do what works best for your family.
- Limit tablet play to an hour/day on the weekends. I set an old school kitchen timer and once the timer goes off, my kids have the responsibility of shutting off their iPads. If the timer goes off and they ignore it, they lose tablet privileges the next day. You could also use the internal timer on the tablet or app.
- Highly monitor and observe (or just delete) YouTube Kids. In my opinion, YouTube, even the Kids version with parental control settings, is still not 100% safe or appropriate for children. It’s quite scary what our kids are being exposed to. The frontal lobe of the brain, the part that controls judgement and decision making, is not fully developed until age 25 or so. Kids do not have the ability to make good decisions when they are exposed to questionable content on a regular basis. Only allow YouTube to be viewed within earshot or even better, within eyeshot. If it becomes a problem, delete it or suspend it for a month.
- Research those apps. Before adding a new app, do your research. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t trust the recommended age listed on the app. Common Sense Media is a great website to read reviews from other parents and easily see what the app is about. Rather than just saying no, have a discussion with your kids about WHY you are saying no. The app might be too violent or have inappropriate language. This is a good learning opportunity.
- Only allow educational YouTube Kids channels. Beyond that, seek out channels that encourage active and creative play. Watching videos of others playing without a purpose or unboxing toys is not doing their little brains any good. Some of my favorite YouTube channels for kids that encourage active play include Cosmic Kids Yoga and Art for Kids Hub. I also really like the Smithsonian Channel and SciShow.
- Allow for boredom. Parents, try not to panic when you hear the B-word. The best kind of ingenuity often comes from boredom. In a world full of over scheduled kids, I actually feel good when my kids have enough down time to say that they are bored. One of my catchphrases as a mom is “I’m not your cruise director, go find something to do”.
- Set up an art or pretend play station. Allow for boredom, but also give children the tools to create and play. Hit up those after Halloween sales or thrift shops and fill a bin with dress up clothes. Allow your child to have unlimited access to paper, markers, scissors (if they are past the cutting hair phase) and craft supplies. Let them play!
- Be prepared for the detox. When we made the big change in our home, it was literally like weaning my children from an addiction. Sadly, they had to learn how to play again. Get off your own little screen and play a little more. Be consistent with the new rules and it’ll eventually become the new norm.
- Replace screen time with outdoor time. It is scientifically proven that being outside in nature improves our emotional wellbeing. Go swimming, ride bikes or let them just explore in the backyard. Play!
How do you limit screen time for kids in your home?
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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