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Limiting Screen Time in a World of Screens


TV, smartphones, tablets, computers, and video games: these screens could easily command your child's attention all day if you let them. But you're probably well aware of the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to limit screen time to 1-2 hours a day for children older than 2 (under that and they say aim for no screens at all). The experts have linked a great many troubling things to staring at these ubiquitous screens, including childhood obesity, poor sleep habits, bullying, attention and behavior problems, academic challenges, and violent tendencies. Yikes!

The good news is, the experts haven't cut kids (and their device-loving, break-from-the-kids-needing parents) off completely yet. A little TV is fine and possibly even educational, they say. Engaging in interactive games and apps for a controlled amount of time isn't going to do any harm either. Just keep it under two hours max a day. Depending on you and your child, that's either plenty or nowhere near enough. Feeling like the latter? Maybe you have to change your ways a bit. Here are some ideas for how to best do that.

Ideas to limit screen time with your kids

  • If the TV is always on in your house, even if no one if actively watching it, start turning it off. Turn on some music or a podcast for background noise if necessary.
  • Don't put a TV or computer in your child's bedroom or playroom. Delay getting your child a smartphone or other handheld electronic device as long as possible. And skip the toy phones tablets, even the ones that purport to be educational. At this point learning through creative play is still optimal.
  • Set limits on screen time for your kids, and let them know what they are. You could do something like issue three tickets a day, each good for one screen-time session. Once s/he has spent the tickets, that's it until tomorrow.
  • Be strategic with your kids' screen time. Use the time to your advantage too. For example, save a half hour of your child's screen time for use while you're making dinner or trying to get work done. You might not want to allow TV time in the morning when your child is well-rested, happy, and full of energy. Instead you could choose to maximize that cheerfulness with a walk to the park, and save the screen time for after lunch, when most kids have a natural down time.
  • Although experts don't recommend using screen time as a reward or punishment, there's no reason your kids shouldn't have to get their homework done, dinner finished, or rooms cleaned before they get to veg out.
  • Put your phone away too. Kids imitate what they see and know, so if you're forever staring at a screen, you're going to be hard-pressed to ask them not to. And it's best to resist the urge to hand over your smartphone when at a restaurant, in church, or other location where your child might act up. Bring paper and crayons, small puzzles, or other toys to keep them busy instead. Reserve letting your child use your phone for dire emergencies and long airplane trips.
  • When you do allow screen time, try to watch with your child. That way you can fast forward commercials or talk through anything you see that might need some explaining.
  • Choose age-appropriate shows, apps, and games. The ones that require some interaction—counting along with the show, for example, or educational apps that engage kids—are best choices.
  • Finally, keep the screen appeal to a minimum by providing a lot of other fun ways to spend the time. You don't have to become your child's recreational director, but fun toys, playdates, camps, after-school activities, and outdoor time can keep your little one busy, interested, and away from the screens.
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