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How to limit your kids’ screen time

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Tips, strategies and advice to help you limit screen time in your kids’ daily lives

Setting limits on your kids screen time is a parenting reality in the 21st century.  We tend to think of “limiting screen time” as an iphone- and ipad-related problem, but the idea of too much screen time has been around since the early days of television.

When we talk about too much screen time, we’re generally referring to sitting for too long in front of a TV, computer, tablet, or video game, or even a smartphone.  Too much screen time is a dangerous habit for both kids and adults to fall into.

Screen time can cut into the time that your child is able to dedicate to other things like schoolwork, outdoor activity, or sleep.  Limiting screen time is a natural way to be a more authoritative parent in everyday life.

This is the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation for screen time by child age.

Babies up to 18 months old: AAP recommends video chatting only.  Reserved for chatting with remote grandparents or parents who are traveling.

18 to 24 months old: AAP recommends co-viewing experiences for parents and toddlers.

2 to 5 years old: AAP recommends not exceeding one hour a day of co-viewing.

Ages 6 and up: No time limit. But the AAP does recommend that parents “place consistent limits on the time spent using media and the types of media.  And make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.”

So how do you put those screen time limits into practice?

Here are a 9 key ways we recommend to limit screen time for your kids.

Screen-Free Bedrooms

TVs, video games, and computers should stay in in shared areas, instead of bedrooms. This keeps your kids accountable; they can’t disappear into their rooms for hours at a time.

They also learn to share screen time with other family members. And with screens in shared areas, you can keep better tabs on what they’re doing and for how long.

This approach is challenging with smartphones and tablets.  Require those to charge overnight in common areas as well.

Designated Screen Time Hours

Some find that it’s best to keep screens off on school days. Or during the summer.  Or between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Mealtimes should be screen-free.  That includes Mom and Dad too.

There are some useful tech tools such as the Luma or Torch router or the Circle by Disney router plug-in. These allow you to assert control over when and for how long your family’s devices are online and what they can access.

Set Clear Screen Time Boundaries

Determine how much screen time you’re okay with. This could be a couple of hours per day, or one or two per week. It depends what is right for you and your family.

Make sure your children know this limit and explain why you’re enforcing it.

For younger children, simply say that spending too much time on screens isn’t good for their development. Align on the consequences for breaking these boundaries.

Provide Active Alternatives

Encourage kids to ride a bike, play outside, or play indoor active games. Playing with them is often a big draw. If you have a yard, put it to use.

“Family nights” or “family game nights” are a great recurring weekly idea to encourage non-screen activities. Think about creating a list of non-screen activities they enjoy, for reference. This way you can all refer to it when you’re bored.

Use Incentives

Customize your screen-limiting to your child’s age.

For preschoolers, find an activity they can do with you instead of being on a screen (color with crayons, encourage reading on their own, or cook together).

For school-aged kids, screen time is a privilege.  Plan playdates or outdoor activities so they can’t complain of boredom.

For teens, let them know you’re willing and able to remove access to cell phones and the Internet.  Use grades and good behavior to reward with screen time.

Make TV Work for You

Don’t leave your TV on in the background when you’re done watching something. Make time to watch with your children.  Find things you both enjoy.

If you see something you don’t like, address it thoughtfully. Those are great teaching opportunities.

You Are a Role Model

Remember that what you do is more important than what you say. If you flip on the TV as soon as you walk in the door or check your phone at every opportunity, you won’t have a leg to stand on when your child does the same.

Allow Your Child (Some) Choice

Give your kid a little bit of control about what you watch. Give warnings when they have reached screen time limits.

Encourage Kids To Be Producers

If your child is really interested in certain TV, movies, or video games, suggest that they try making their own content.  This will require some technical knowledge but if you happen to have some basic equipment and some time, it will be much more rewarding than sitting on the couch as a consumer.