When my first child was born about seven years ago, iPhones were just being introduced, and the iPad was released in 2010. In just a few years, media devices have become incredibly popular and can be such a big part of daily life, and that is in addition to other electronics like TV, computers, and video games. The question is finding just the right balance. Even though these can be educational, it is easy for kids to spend too much time using electronic media.
Here are some tips to help manage your children’s screen time:
Set a daily time limit.
Have a daily time limit in mind, and stick to it. You can also break up the allotted time – for example, if the limit is 1 hour, you can break it up in to two parts. Keeping track of usage not only sets limits but is a good way to see just how much screen time your family typically uses – it may be much more than you realize, if you haven’t already been keeping track or setting limits.
Use apps or timers to monitor usage.
There are many ways to time usage of media devices. You can use an app, or a built-in timer. Or, you can simply use a kitchen timer if it is something like television, Xbox, the Wii, and so on.
Establish media-free areas.
Establish zones that are media-free – such as bedrooms, dining room, the kitchen table, etc.
Establish media-free times.
You may want to establish times of day that you want media-free, such as first thing in the morning, meals, play dates, and so on. It can be easy for kids to want to show their friend something quickly on the iPad, and then it turns into them becoming completely absorbed in it and not being engaged in other activities.
Don’t allow media/screen time until other things are accomplished.
You may want to establish a rule about allowing media only after a certain time. That might be waiting until after dinner, after homework is done, and so on. My children are expected to read every day (by their teachers and by us), and cannot ask to use a media device until they have completed things like homework, reading, and chores.
Coordinate media/screen time with down-time.
Some kids may benefit from having down time, so those times may be optimal for using media devices. Take advantage of when they are tired or could benefit from quiet time. This might be after a child arrives home from school, after lunch, after a sports practice, and so on.
Establish rules to foster positive behavior.
Monitor what your kids are watching, and what games they are playing. Set parental controls on devices.
We have rules about no whining or fighting over the iPad, otherwise I take it away.
Don’t allow screen time to be a crutch.
Most of us have probably used something like the iPad or TV to distract our kids while we try to get something done, whether it is an important phone call or completing a task. However, it is important that they don’t always have the expectation that they will behave only if occupied with screen time.
Be a role model.
Kids see what you are doing, so take this into consideration.