So here is a little disclaimer before I write about how to take away the phone or iPad from your kids.
I am not anti-gadget parents.
In fact, here is my confession: I consider my old iPad as the best babysitter ever, the one to rely on those difficult times when I needed to take a breath or get things done. That little device has saved me numerous times on road trips and holding off meltdowns in the middle of a long supermarket line.
So if I found you at the restaurant giving your kids an iPad or phone so you can have a proper conversation with another adult, I will not judge you. I GET IT.
I’ve been there. We carried the same guilt.
But there is a time when I wonder, how much is too much screen time? Will it affect my kids’ intelligence in the future? Why is my 5 year old always throw a tantrum every time I said no to TV/phone/iPad?
I did a quick research and educate myself on how can we as parents should handle the use of technology to our kids.
How Much Screen Time is Recommended for My Kids?
The new warning from the AAP recommends parents limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day. For younger children, age 2 to 5, the recommended limit is one hour per day.
It is also recommended that the parents need to make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
What Is The Negative Impact of Too Much Screen Time?
Moreover, elementary school-age children who watch TV or use a computer more than two hours per day are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems, which also contributes to a significant deleterious effect on academic performance, especially reading.
If we continue to let the kids watch too much TV, research shows that there was a significant association between the amount of time spent watching television during adolescence and early adulthood and the likelihood of subsequent aggressive acts against others.
More than 1000 studies confirm that exposure to heavy doses of television violence increases aggressive behavior, particularly in boys.
In conclusion, I realized that I need to come with strategies to reduce the amount of daily screen time. And I need to do it smoothly, without making my kids feel like I’ve taken away their source of happiness.
But how do I set rules to limit things that seem to have so much power over my kids’ attention?
I gather around the top 6 tips on how to successfully implement the screen time rules. Please mind that every family is different and these are the ones that worked with my kids (who are all under 6). You might need different strategies if you have older kids in the house.
Get to know your gadget
Take time to learn what games are installed on your phone and iPad. Make sure that the games are age-appropriate, free of violence, and educational. Don’t just rely on the rating info, play it yourself and determine if it’s really safe for your kid’s age.
Set up a password to avoid any in-app purchase, and make sure they can’t download an app by themselves.
Personally, I banned them from watching Youtube because I can’t always monitor what they’re watching. After the disturbing Elsa gate controversy, you can never be too sure that they are watching safe content even with the kids’ filters turned on.
In short, I need to make sure they are watching safe and high-quality contents during their limited screen time.
Set up time rules, and stick with it
The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2016 recommended limiting kids screentime for children aged 2–5years to 1 hour/day. If you think that is too long, you can set up less time during weekdays and more on the weekend.
My house rule is 30 minutes on weekdays and 2 hours or one full movie on weekends. No screen time after dinner. During that time, I make sure that I can do things that I can’t when my kids are around. Take a shower, get the cooking done, or just enjoying a cup of coffee, usually I got most things done within that 30 minutes period.
More importantly, make sure that these rules are non-negotiable. Now, this is a bit tricky because sometimes you have to deal with the famous “5 more minutes”.
My trick is to set an alarm, show them you’re setting it for exactly 5 minutes. When it rings, they know it’s over. There are even apps that will lock the phone for a certain amount of time.
Try to set an example
Kids are always watching. ALWAYS. In psychology one of the largest studied theories is involving on how observation leads to mimicked behavior (thank you B. F. Skinner).
So before the kid point it out and say, “But you’re always on the phone too!”, I know I also have to sacrifice my screen time.
I admit this is difficult because sometimes my husband and I need to use the computer for work, but we try to set up a time before sleep to do that. Or one can go hide and work while the other takes care of the kids. We turned off the TV when the kids are around, that Netflix show can wait until bedtime.
Make the screen time as a reward
I want to make sure that they can’t just play the iPad just because they wanted to. So we treat screen time as a privilege, the kids can get it when they are done with their lunch or homework.
One great idea to set the reward is to make a chore chart wherein the end, when the points are enough, they can enjoy TV time as a reward. But remember, the total screen time will always be the same every day.
Create a Gadget Timeout Spot
Put a box or basket on your kitchen counter to use as a phone time-out spot. When you know you need to engage with your family, like at dinner or when you or your hubby or kids get home from work or school, have everyone put their devices in the box.
Then speak to each other as though you were people, you know like in the old days ten years ago.
Our house is gadget-free every day starting from dinner time all the way until bedtime. It’s actually one of my favorite time of the day because everyone at home gathers around and the house filled with conversations about their day.
Now we can have it without interruptions.
I also found it easier to implement the screen time rule if none is laying around.
Set up an activity to tackle the tantrum, as in, prepare your battle
As a mommy, you’ll know that enforcing a new rule in the house will not happen smoothly. There will be the inevitable whining and even tantrum on the horizon.
I can literally hear my kid goes, “But I’m boreeeed” as the classic response when I say no to turning on the TV. And then followed by, “I don’t have anything else to do!!”. It’s almost always like that.
They aren’t that creative sometimes.
So before you see your child lying on the floor screaming mommy is evil, we can think ahead on what we can do to handle the situation. Often time, my son will ask for screen time when he is done playing and needs my attention.
So that is my cue to set aside a time, sit down, and take the board games out and ask him to play together. Other times, I’d just ask “What were you playing? Can I play that again with you?” and spent the next 10 minutes pretending to be a lion chasing its prey.
Now I’m hearing less and less of “I’m bored” and instead he goes, “Okay, but can I play snakes and ladders with you?”. Bingo.
Screen time on its own is not entirely evil. While the risks are stated above, another research says screen time can actually be good for kids.
The main drawback of our kids being on screens for too long is that it limits the time they can spend on other activities such as physical play, social interaction, and hands-on learning.
How can we tackle this? Take a look at what the kids are watching and discuss it together. The Center on Media and Child Health stated that co-viewing reduces fear and aggression while increasing learning and discussion.
So while the kids are watching a tv show about animals, ask them “Do you know what else living in the savannah?” or “What happens if you see a snake around the house?” and go from there.
Recreate a scene from a movie that you’re just watching and make an alternate ending. Or maybe set up a stage and sing together that Disney songs after you’re done watching the movie for the 100th time. The kids will learn to use their imagination and hopefully less relying that from the screen.
There you go, I hope with these tips you can implement the screen time rules a bit easier. Do you have more ideas? Or other strategies that work in your house? Please do share it in the comments below, I would love to hear them!