Reduce Screen Time for Kids
As a newly-minted parent, with a 32-day-old baby sitting right next to me as I write this, I am slowly beginning to worry about screen time. Not only her future screen time (name’s Avalon, BTW) but mine, as I model behavior in front of her that she will eventually adopt. I assume if I had some dashboard staring me in the face over the last six months, it would indicate a glowing red caution light for how much more I’m looking at my phone, computer, and television. These days, with cutting-edge gaming monitors hooked to gaming laptops, smart TVs, and streaming TV devices, there are no shortages of places to look deep into a black mirror.
We all know we need to cut back on this addiction, not just for us but for the little ones who look up to us and replicate our behavior. But if you have recently watched the Netflix Documentary “Social Dilemma,” you know that there’s an army of people and artificial learning out there working to keep you glued to your screen, no matter how hard you try. So what does a parent do, especially given that eventually, our children must understand these technologies to assimilate into the workplace. Can you imagine getting a normal job these days without being able to operate a computer?
Fortunately, there’s a growing number of people working to help regular people like us, parents and concerned citizens alike, curb our addiction to the screen. I’ve collected some of the best advice I can find on the very place I’m working to avoid – the internet – and brought it here for your consideration. As mentioned previously, total screen abstinence is probably not the solution for most people. We still have to exist in this world. But if you can slowly begin to cut back on your child’s screen consumption, the compound interest of that effort will make a big impact over the course of a year.
Measured Equals Managed
The first thing you should consider as you begin to understand what’s happening with your child’s screen time is whether your evaluation meets reality. If the kid is just using a phone or tablet when you are around, but not with the babysitter or other people, you might have a skewed version of just how much YouTube Kids she’s truly ingesting in a single day. Fortunately for you, there are a ton of apps and built-in features in Apple and Android products to help you get your head around just how much time is spent looking into that endless abyss that is the internet.
Freedom, Moment, and ZenScreen are three great apps that work on Android TV boxes and Apple devices. One challenging thing you should consider is monitoring your own screen time. So once you have the app installed on your child’s device and yours, plus anyone else you can convince should play along, you can start weighing and measuring just what’s going on with the devices you are monitoring. The results might surprise you.
Just like any diet, you don’t cut your calories in half on day one. Make sure your child is aware – if old enough to understand – just how much time they are on the device each day, and then let them know you’re going to scale it back by a certain percentage for a bit. Make the reduction so low they barely notice it to get started. This will ensure that you can start to turn the dial-up on the pressure later, without them freaking out early on. Build a game plan, start with a goal in mind and build a plan backward for where you’d like you and your child’s screen time to be within a set amount of time. If you need help with that, look up, and implement SMART goals.
Schedule and Binge
Creating a schedule that allows your children to interact with their devices when it is appropriate (and convenient) for you and useful to them is a great second step. There are definitely times of the day when a device is more applicable and less harmful, like avoiding times around when they should be going to sleep. Maybe it’s during the time of day when you need to make dinner or when everyone needs to wind down after work. Whenever that time happens to be, it’s a good idea to identify it and allow device usage in that window.
This strategy creates clear boundaries and hopefully teaches your child some prioritization. Before they begin their device binging session, consider asking them what they intend to do, see if they themselves can create a plan to use the device through that timeframe. This opportunity for your child to discover what prioritization really means may truly help them in the future.
Binging is also a consideration and can be done on a schedule. If you desire to greatly reduce the total screen time during those all-important weekdays, you could schedule one massive binge session on Saturday or Sunday. This tactic will allow your child some time to really dive deep into their interests and give you an extended period of respite when you can do the same without projecting bad habits onto your kiddo. Just consider your original monitoring of total time and your goal to trend that time towards a certain destination, and plan accordingly.
Look, you know this is going to be tough. The best evidence of how hard this will be should come from your evaluation of your own screen time. You’re an adult. If you’re having a hard time getting this sorted out (and who isn’t), how can you expect your little one who has very little self-discipline?
Just remember, all of you are in this together. So make it a bonding process, suffer together, and come closer as a family. You got this!