Spending time more than usual or necessary in front of a screen is bad for everyone. Exposure to blue light can make you more restless during sleep. A constant influx of imagery, swiping, and clicking can also reduce your attention span. Not to mention, too much screen time takes away from other activities like getting outdoors and having face-to-face conversations.
As harmful as spending a lot of time with electronics can be for adults, kids are even more vulnerable. Yet in an increasingly digitized world, it can be challenging to find ways to reduce your child’s tech time.
Here are the different ways to help decrease your kiddo’s screen dependency.
The decision of when to let your child get their first mobile device can be tough. There’s a lack of clear, established guidelines on how young is too young. And your kid’s peers might already be using smartphones and tablets, encouraging them to ask you for similar technology.
Having a smartphone might help your child stay connected and feel like they fit in with the crowd. However, it doesn’t mean they’re ready for one. At least not a full-fledged smart device with open access to social media, the web, games, and other online activities.
Consider giving them a kids phone or other device with built-in parental controls and limitations. These devices don’t include access to the internet, social media, online games, and app stores. Fewer digital distractions protect your child from online threats and discourage them from spending time in front of the screen.
Depending on your child’s age, pediatricians recommend different screen time guidelines. Children under two shouldn’t have any, while kids between two and five should stick to one hour a day. Kids between five and 17 shouldn’t exceed two hours a day unless it involves schoolwork. Adults can also benefit from limiting their non-work screen time to two hours a day or less.
Scheduling time away from technology and electronics can help reduce screen time for the entire family. Set aside a time for everyone to unplug, just as you pencil in meals, outings, and vacations. That schedule might include a few hours each evening before bedtime and extended periods during the weekends. Plan to do other things as a family or establish guidelines for individual activities.
For example, you could bring back a blast from the past and introduce your children to board games. Spend part of the day hiking, enjoying a local park, or sightseeing. You could let your kids choose individual pursuits like reading and hobbies such as drawing and sports. Whatever is your decision, use this time to show your kids that unplugging can be enjoyable and help them establish real connections.
Do your kids see that you spend a lot of time with the TV, a laptop, or your phone? If so, they’re probably going to develop the same habits. Social learning theory says that people learn by watching what others do. Families are one of many social learning environments, with parents serving as the “leaders of the pack” (aka role models).
When your children see that you don’t spend most of your time with devices, they’ll imitate those behaviors. They’ll learn through observation that electronics use should be limited. They’ll likewise see that it’s “normal” to put your devices down and focus on the people in front of you. In these ways, kids will receive consistent messages about healthy tech-related boundaries and behaviors.
Part of role modeling might include discussions with your children about acceptable screen time and technology use. Communicate guidelines for daily screen time limits and device use while stating why these rules are important. Kids will follow a restriction if they understand its purpose. But if they also see that you walk the talk, it will reinforce the significance of those behaviors.
Your kids might think it’s cool to have televisions and computers in their bedrooms. However, this can lead to additional screen time that’s difficult for you to see or track. Kids can leave TVs on at night while they’re trying to sleep. Or they might be tempted to stay in their rooms where all the fun is.
Instead, locate, store, and use electronics in shared spaces. These areas can include living and recreation rooms where the entire family goes. Set up storage bins or baskets for handheld devices where your children can return and retrieve them.
Explain that having “tech-free” areas can improve sleep and mood while reducing social isolation. Likewise, you should eliminate electronics like televisions from your bedroom. Otherwise, your kids might wonder why it’s OK for you and not for them.
If your child is already engaging in too much screen time, trying to make drastic changes can backfire. Think about it in terms of going on a new diet or starting an exercise routine. Going from eating 3,000 calories a day to 1,000 is unrealistic. If a diet feels too restrictive, your mind and body are more likely to rebel.
A similar thing happens when you ramp up your exercise too fast. You stand a higher chance of sustaining an injury and overtaxing your system. The same is true when trying to make changes to your child’s “tech fitness.”
Institute gradual changes to help your child get down to the recommended one to two hours of daily screen time. If they’re spending six hours in front of devices, try ratcheting down that time to four or three hours. Once they’ve absorbed that adjustment, you can consider removing more time from their daily use.
Without a doubt, the digital world can be a fascinating place to be. Kids learn new things and gain access to an endless source of entertainment. However, too much time screen time isn’t good for anyone. It can lead to restless sleep patterns, mood problems, and social anxieties. Reducing your child’s interactions with technology will help show them that an engaging reality exists away from the screen.
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