We all know that too much screen time isn’t a good thing for children.
The idea that over-engagement with tech-type devices in some ways impairs growth and development isn’t exactly breaking news.
Toddlers under 2-years should have no screen time and children over that age should have limited access, with only two hours per day, according to the Australian Government Department of Health. That said, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average 8 to 18-year-old spends more than seven hours per day using tech/media-related devices.
Wow! Why is this statistic so staggering? Aside from the sheer number of hours that our kids are spending online, sitting in front of the TV, using smartphones or playing video games, it also means that there are plenty of other things they aren’t doing. The more time that your child spends in front of a screen the less likely it is that they’re getting active, being social or engaging with the ‘real world’. This can potentially lead to obesity, poor social development, depression, isolation and even aggression.
So, now you’re getting the timer out and stressing about your child’s screen time, right? Worrying about the ill-effects of too much technology is completely normal. You want to reduce and restrict your little one’s computer use or limit the time that he spends poking around on your tablet.
What can you do?
It may not seem easy, but you can make changes now that put screen time in second place (or third, fourth or fifth) behind other activities!
1. Take a family break
Chances are that you’ve already got your laptop open or are reading this on your mobile phone. Between checking emails from work, texting other mums to set up playdates and taking a few brief breaks to read an entertaining little article or watch a show, you probably spend a considerable amount of time in front of a screen. Institute a family tech-time siesta. Put the iPhones, iPads, keyboards and everything else electronic away for an entire day (or at least a few hours). This gets the kids away from the screen and shows them that you’re willing to forgo mega-media usage for the sake of family fun.
2. Talk to your child
Mum’s hovering over the tiny screen on her mobile phone, dad’s watching football on his tablet and the kids are in front of the TV. Drop what you’re doing right now, turn to your family and talk to them. If your child is talking to you he’s building social skills and he isn’t downloading the latest gaming app.
3. Be a role model
The more time that you spend on your iPhone or laptop, the more your child thinks that screen time is ok. After all, if mum’s doing it – it must be fine. Change the game and pick up a book, walk the dog or get artsy and make a craft. This shows your child that you can, and do, take time away from the screen.
4. Give ideas
Just saying, “Put down the tablet” or, “Turn off the TV” isn’t always enough. Offer alternatives to screen-based activities. For example, set up a painting project for your preschooler or organise a neighbourhood outdoor obstacle course for your older child and his friends. Provide plenty of options that cover a wide range of interests. Doing so heads-off the response of, “Mum, I don’t want to do that.”
5. Make a to-do list
No, not a chore chart. Instead, make a list of activities that your child ‘must do’ before he flicks on the screen. Include active adventures such as a run through the backyard along with more passive (but, hands-on) pursuits such as read a book or draw a family portrait. Don’t set time limits on the to-do list. You never know when your child will enjoy one of the activities so much that he’ll forget to turn back to tech-time!
6. Post a time table
It’s possible that your child has absolutely no idea just how much time he spends online, gaming or soaking in the screen. What may seem like minutes quickly turns into hours without your child taking notice. Draw a home-time schedule onto a piece of poster board. Hang it up and have your child chart when he goes on and off tech devices. At the end of the day add up the minutes or hours. If (and it probably will) it goes over two hours, make a plan together to reduce the time. The key here is “together.” When your child is invested in a screen-free or low media use plan, he’s more likely to stand behind it. Keep the time table up to watch how your child’s activities change.