Guest Post Contributed by: Daniel Sherwin
Parenting young children is hard. Even if you’ve been thinking about how you would like your child to spend less time in front of a TV or other electronic device, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. After all, sometimes you need a few minutes to do the dishes or laundry or catch up on work. Sometimes, you just need a break to allow your mind to recharge.
Screen time is not harmful in and of itself. There are plenty of shows, games, and activities that can benefit your child’s education and socialization skills. But when they have unlimited screen time—which means less time in nature and in-person interaction—it can harm their physical, mental, and emotional health.
If you’re ready to learn more about limiting your child’s screen time, keep reading this guide. We’ll even provide you with some alternatives to help keep your child entertained, active, and learning!
Why You Should Limit Screen Time
Experts recommend that babies and children under 18 months should not have any screen time and that children ages 2 to 5 should not have more than one hour each day. If your child is video chatting with friends or family members, you don’t have to count that as screen time because it is seen as high-quality media use.
When toddlers are not sitting in front of a screen, it gives them more opportunities for developing essential skills like creativity, communication, agility, and so forth. Replacing screen time with imaginative play can do wonders for helping younger children learn and grow. And you can also use your child’s unplugged time to help them get exercise and rest.
Older kids can benefit from having their screen time monitored as well. Establishing daily screen limits can result in academic, physical, and social improvements. Also, having conversations with your child about the content they enjoy can show your child that you are interested in what they are interested in without them staring at a screen for hours on end.
Then there is the content itself. Particularly with elementary-age kids, monitoring their media use can help you limit their exposure to harmful messaging and media violence. This can reduce aggression and improve sleep, academic performance, and social skills.
Risks of Unlimited Screen Time
Across all age groups, the average daily screen time is seven hours. Electronic media use consumes more of the average child’s day than any other activity. Kids ages 2 to 5 use tablets and smartphones for almost two hours a day, elementary-age children spend four to six hours, and teenagers spend about nine hours per day.
If you notice that your child is using technology to escape their situation, thoughts, or emotions, it could signify that they are spending too much time on their devices. Another indicator is if your child’s screen time is disrupting their or your daily routine. Moreover, if your child shows obsessive behavior when you take their device away or has a meltdown when the battery dies, you might consider tightening their screen limits.
Many negative consequences come from spending too much on electronic devices. Here are a few common symptoms:
- Higher risk of obesity
- Poor academic performance
- Inadequate sleep
- Chronic fatigue
How to Limit Screen Time
We can’t pretend that technology does not come with its fair share of benefits. It can help our kids stay connected to relatives and friends from a distance, make learning more entertaining and engaging, and provide parents with a much-needed break. But to maximize the advantages and minimize the drawbacks, it’s critical to set healthy screen limits. Here are a few strategies to help you do just that:
Establish Clear Rules
One of the most practical ways to ensure technology is not harming your child’s health, well-being, or development is to establish tech time limits in your household. The precise ground rules should depend on what your child enjoys doing on their devices. Many parents allow their children an hour of TV after completing their homework for the day or 30 minutes of social media time. Whatever your rules are, make them clear and stick to them.
Fortunately, most major device manufacturers and cable carriers provide parental control features to help parents set and maintain their goals. Just remember not to give in when your child is pleading, crying, or negotiating to have more time in front of their device!
Come Up With Alternatives
If you want to succeed in your screen limits, you will need to compile a list of alternative activities that can keep your child learning, active, and engaged. For example, perhaps you could build a firepit and host family camp nights in the backyard. Maybe you can plan a weekend getaway that includes hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities. If your child holds up to their end of the bargain by heeding your screen limits without complaining, you could even give them a few choices of destinations for your getaway!
One of the best overall activities you can do with your child is to read with them. Not only will this help them in their academic endeavors, but there is endless content out there to keep them entertained and engaged without a screen. For instance, look into interactive children’s books and reading activities.
Prepare Your Home
If you plan to engage in backyard activities with your child, you’ll want to make sure your property is safe and that it facilitates any activities you have in mind. First, consider installing a fence around your property if you don’t already have one. You can easily connect with local contractors by searching “fence company near me” online.
Monitor the Content
Like most parents, you may want to know precisely what your child is viewing on their devices. Make sure you take advantage of all the parental control tools on your TVs, tablets, computers, and wireless subscriptions. Other than that, it can help discuss the content your child is engaging in actively. This will allow you to pick up on some of the themes and ideas your child is getting from the content.
Remove Screens from the Bedroom
Finally, another practical way to limit your child’s screen time is to remove all media devices from their bedroom. If your child has a mobile device or TV in their room, they are likely to spend much more time using technology than if they don’t have access to those devices all the time. Sleep is critical for children of all ages, and keeping your child’s bedroom device-free can ensure that online activities or blue light emissions are not harming their rest.
There are plenty of technologies that can help your child develop social, communication, and academic skills. But unless you establish boundaries around screen time, technology can harm your child more than it helps. Keep the information and advice above in mind, and try to think of as many alternative activities as possible to keep your child healthy, well, and thriving!
Daniel is a single dad raising two children. At DadSolo.com, he aims to provide other single dads with information and resources to help them better equip themselves on the journey that is parenthood.