The American Academy of Pediatrics’s recommendations for limiting children’s screen time might surprise parents. They recommend no screen time (except video chat) for children less than 18 months old; one hour per day for children up to age five; and greater flexibility for children age six and older. However, with increased screen time, there is a higher likelihood a child will be overweight and suffer from poor sleep. With the rapid proliferation of screened devices, such as TVs, computers, phones and tablets, how can parents redirect a child’s attention and reconnect? Here are some tips.
Model screen and device etiquette. No matter what screen and device rules your family decides are necessary, the heads of the household et the gold standard for etiquette, so follow your own rules.
Set basic rules. Setting a few basic rules about screen time and device use can help draw boundaries and carve out allowances that make everyone happy. Some rules that might work for your family are:
- No devices at the dinner table. This also means no TV at meals. If you or your spouse has a profession requiring 24/7 access, such as physician or police officer, exceptions can be made; perhaps the phone goes on the counter instead of in another room. This might be difficult for families at first, but teaching children how to engage in small talk over a meal while using proper table manners will serve them (and you) very well throughout life.
- No devices at bedtime. Set up a charging station in the family room where everyone leaves their device at night. This ensures kids get proper sleep and reduces eye strain; it also means you don’t have to worry as much about what they’re up to while you’re sleeping. This rule might also mean no TVs in bedrooms.
- No family computers behind closed doors. Parents should monitor children’s online activity, which is easier to do when devices stay in communal spaces.
- Always use a blue light reduction filter. This seriously reduces eye strain that, over the course of a lifetime, could cause significant damage to eyes and sleep cycles.
Help your children find other things to do. Screen time is an easy solution to a myriad behavioral problems and frustrating situations, but there are other easy options, too. Make a list of fun, engaging and age-appropriate activities that don’t involve screens. Ideas include:
- Art: Put together kits for ageappropriate activities, like art kits with character coloring books for preschoolers or garage sale dishes so older children can make mosaics.
- Pets: If you have a family pet, maybe it needs stimulation, too. Walking, brushing, playing with and training a dog are all things young children can do with your help and older children can do autonomously.
- Books: The original TV. Make liberal use of your local or school library and check yard sales to keep reading an inexpensive hobby. Or check out the mobile app Libby that hooks up to your Kansas library card so you can check out books online through your phone or smart device!
- Invest in your community: Spend time with your neighbors. It can be as simple as a meal together or playing games. The activity doesn’t need to be elaborate to have fun.
Every family and every child is different. Parents have to evaluate and do what works best for you and your family.