Raising a child in the 21st century has its fair share of challenges. Screens and the internet have really changed the parenting game, sparking genuine concerns like, ‘How should my kids interact with screens?’, ‘Are screens bad for them?’ ‘What rules should I be enforcing?’
If you’re not feeling confident about how to tackle screen time, you’re not alone. It can be confusing for a lot of parents. But we’ve got you covered with evidence-based tips and insights into setting healthy limits on screen time for your kids.
Screens can be harmful for kids, but they can also be hugely beneficial for their development. Let’s explore that a bit.
Because screen time is often experienced sitting down, it’s linked to excessive periods of sedentary behaviour (that’s a fancy way of saying ‘being a couch potato’). It’s also associated with obesity and poor social skills. There’s evidence that screens may be associated with poor vision, and that they interfere with sleep quality and patterns — making it harder to fall asleep.
On the flip side, video games and TV programs can promote learning (consider the likes of Play School and Sesame Street). Screen time can help kids develop important creative, problem-solving, communication and social skills.
Like anything, there are positives and negatives but here are a few things to consider.
Television, iPad, smartphone, laptop, desktop computer – talk about device overload. You’ve probably got a handful of these at home, or maybe all of them. Screen time includes use of any of these devices.
When selecting devices to introduce to your kids, consider how they can be used positively. For example, educational television shows or iPad games could be beneficial but addictive smartphone games (we’re looking at you, Angry Birds) could create frustration and lead to tantrums when screen time comes to an end.
If your child is old enough to use a device themselves (and let's be honest, they’re probably better at it than you are), it’s important to think about how you’ll control what types of content they can access. You don’t want to leave them in front of Play School, and come back to find them wide-eyed watching Deadpool.
Good quality screen content for kids will:
Here are some tips for monitoring screen time content:
It’s obviously not great for your kids to be glued to a computer screen for eight hours a day. (Same goes for you, actually.) Limiting exposure can help you and your kids enjoy screens in a healthy way.
Based on childhood development research, the World Health Organisation suggests different screen time caps for different age groups.
It’s advised that children younger than two don’t have any screen time at all.
Two to five year olds should have no more than one hour per day.
Five to 18 year olds should have no more than two hours per day.
Get everyone in your family on the same page about screen usage by setting rules about screen time. These rules should be based on your child’s age and should clearly lay out:
For example, your four year old may be allowed one hour per day watching TV after day care. Your 10 year old may be allowed one hour of TV and one hour of age-appropriate Xbox after school.
Set boundaries like no screen time during meal times, after 7pm, or if there’s uncompleted homework to do. And set a place for screens to be used, such as the lounge room.
“I told you to turn the PlayStation off 15 minutes ago!”
“You’re not allowed to watch Game of Thrones – you know that!”
“It’s not screen time right now. Give me back my phone, please!”
Any of these sound familiar?
Creating clear rules around screen time can help reduce misbehaviour, but there may be times when your kids try to push the boundaries or just straight up don’t want to comply with them. That can be frustrating, particularly when their eyes are glued to a screen and they won’t pay attention to you.
It’s important to teach your kids that gaming, social media and television are privileges set aside for certain times. That’s why you have your screen time rules in place. If they throw a tantrum, respond calmly, consistently and quickly to the screen time misbehaviour.
Before blowing your lid, try this technique:
If your kid doesn’t follow the rules, reduce their screen time for a brief amount of time (such as 10-15 minutes), and only restore the normal length when they can demonstrate they can turn it off when asked. If they complain or get upset at the end of screen time, continue to reduce screen time until their behaviour improves.
Remember to use praise and rewards for responsible use of screen time and for turning devices off as soon as they’re asked. This is what will make the good behaviour stick.
Another hot tip is to avoid particularly addictive games that prompt ‘one more try’ or don’t allow kids to save their progress. Those are a recipe for meltdowns.
When you do decide to introduce social media, set some rules about how your kids should behave online, and how you can monitor their activity. It’s not about ‘spying on them’ – it’s about helping them safely navigate the online world and avoid involvement in cyberbullying.
Your rules may include adding a parent to the account, setting behaviour expectations, protecting personal information and getting the A-OK from you before they upload photos.
Kids can be brutal. You’ve possibly been on the receiving end of that, but this can be amplified when there’s a screen between them and their victim. Luckily, your kids have a great role model and teacher to show them the art of being a sport online. (That’s you.)
Teach your children that bullying is not cool, whether it’s done in person or from behind a screen.
You can protect your kids from cyberbullying and ensure they’re not being a bully by:
Hopefully you’re now feeling equipped to deal with screen time for your kids. Helping create positive relationships with screens now will help them become responsible users in future.
Don’t forget – how you use screens will also have a major impact on how your children use them. Model good use of your devices and the internet by avoiding mature content while they’re around, and by capping your own screen time. As a bonus, less time on your devices can mean more quality time playing with your awesome kids!
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