I hear from parents all the time about their struggles with screen time for kids. They want to reduce or limit screen time, but it's hard! Here are just a few of the emails I've gotten:
My son wants to stay on Minecraft all day. Sitting on his butt. No exercising. He fights me to get off a screen unless it's to watch a family movie. Which is another screen.
Setting time limits is very hard for me because I have a hard time following through and reminding them it's time to turn off their device.
How easy it is to just say "how about we watch a movie!"
You are busy exhausted parents and it IS easy to turn on the screens to give yourself a break. And you need and deserve a break. That is 100% true.
What if you can get a break without turning on the screens? Would you do it?
Or course you would—if it was easy. Alas, as with most things in life, getting kids away from the glow screen is not always easy, especially when your child is whining and asking,
Just 15 more, minutes. PLEASE, MOM! I'll do my homework later.
And truthfully, you want 15 more minutes to yourself.
But it is easier than you think.
What if it took a little bit of work to get to that point? Just a little. Not too much work. Just patience and persistence. Can you do it?
You can. You can get your kids off screens (or lower their screen time) AND not have to always be down on the floor playing Barbie or LEGO or Ninja Turtles, or whatever their current obsession is. Of course it is great to play with your kids when they are bored, but you don't have to do it 100% of the time.
The problem is not that your kid is bored without screens. The problem is that your kid doesn't know how to be bored without screens.
Let me take a moment to clarify—this is not a judgement on parents who aren't interesting in giving up screens as a babysitter or in monitoring their children's screen time. We all have different lives BUT there are many of us (myself included) who witness the following behavior in our kids when they have a lot of screen time:
- Lack of imagination
- Inability to overcome bored moments and entertain oneself
- Poor sleep habits
- Intense focus on when the next "screen time fix" will be
- Increased aggression and/or anxiety
- Lack of focus
- Poor social skills
If your kids show some of the above traits, it may be that their brains are having a hard time because of an over reliance on screen time.
I'm not going to go into all the research about the affect of screen time on developing brains here (I'll put some resources at the end of this post). If you're reading this you already have concerns and what you are looking for is PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS.
Below I am going to give four practical solutions for reducing or eliminating screen time. Our family has tried each of these solutions so I know they work.
Before You Start Your Plan To Limit Screen Time
Read through each of the unplugged strategies below before deciding how you want to proceed. It is my firm belief that the best road to screen-free success is with idea number one, but whichever you choose, make a plan and stick with it.
You probably want to start limiting screen time like yesterday, but I recommend taking a week to think and strategize. Your chances of success will be that much greater.
- Choose a strategy
- Write it down in as much detail as you can stand
- Tell the entire family what the plan is; not everyone will be happy, so.....
- Tell the entire family why you are excited
- Gather ideas for family time away from screens (ask your kids for input)
- Keep your own screens (phones, iPads, computers) off and put away while you teach your kids how to unplug (Hard, I know. But essential.)
- Stay positive.... and
- Stay consistent
I can not stress enough how important it is to STAY CONSISTENT. As a parent you already know how important consistency is for parenting. No matter what solution you choose, I can tell you that any time I have backtracked and been just a teeny-tiny bit lenient, it has come back to bite me in the butt. You've spent a lot of energy planning a strategy, don't let it all go to waste.
Remember: Patience and Persistence is all you need. You are a parent, you have those in spades!
You can do it!
How to Limit Screen Time for Kids: 4 Ways
Screen Free Idea Number One:
GO COLD TURKEY. Okay this sounds super hard. But it is what we did. I was so fed up with what I saw as a total lack of pretend play and imagination on the part of my youngest child, as well as the intense melt-downs and whining marathons when I wanted to turn the screen off, I decided the only solution was to cut him off totally. And completely.
I'm not going to lie. It was brutal. He complained about being bored.
But it was only hard for about a week.
After a week he figured out on his own that his boredom was not about the lack of screens.
I could say to him until I was blue in the face that he didn't need screens when he was bored. But until he experienced it for himself there was no way he was going to believe me.
After a week he stopped asking for the phone or computer. He started to play, he started to read more. He went outside. All the good stuff of childhood. All. The. Good. Stuff.
Be aware, you the parent or caregiver, must be willing to set aside your beloved device as well.
If you are a long time reader of this blog, you know that we are now not totally screen free. But we kept it up for at least a year, and slowly reintroduced screen time in very limited amounts. I suggest you plan on being totally screen free when the kids are awake and home for at least 3 months. You can then assess if it it makes sense to try to bring screens back into your child's life a little at a time. The older your child is, the more screens become important.
Note to parents: go ahead and check Facebook, answer emails, catch up on your favorite shows when your kids are at school, or sleeping. But turn the devices off while kids are awake and at home.
Screen Free Idea Number Two:
EXTREME LIMITS. After a few months of total cold turkey, we allowed some screen time back in our children's lives. But we limited it to 30 minutes on the weekend, and at their grandparents' house. Set whatever time limit you feel comfortable with, but remember the terms of this limit are crucial to its success:
- Screen time is outside the home. This way I couldn't become distracted by cooking dinner, or reading my book or some other task during which I would just like to have "a few more minutes of peace." If you must have screen time in your own home, choose one specific place.
- Other people are available for encouragement. In our case it was the grandparents.
- Other distractions are readily available when it is time to turn the screen off. At the grandparents' home there are games to be played, or stories to be told. Other ideas: try the library, outside an ice cream store on a bench in town, even a friend's house. If you and another parent are both working on this, you could try making the screen time as part of a play date.
It is absolutely essential that you ignore all pleas for "one more minute!" After the first few times that you do not give in they will stop asking. If you give in, you will seriously hinder your success.
TIP: set the timer on the device so that it interrupts their screen time with a loud ringing noise that no one can ignore!
TIP: Use this key strategy to end tech tantrums when it is time to turn the screens off.
Screen Free Idea Number Three:
INSTITUTE PREREQUISITES. Require certain tasks to be done before screen time. Now that we have 15 minutes of reading on the iPad (no games, just comic books) in the evening I have instituted certain tasks that must be completed first. Any chores for the day must be done, all homework must be completed, a certain about of play time outside must have been fulfilled, and instruments must have been practiced. Increasing our screen time to allow for a daily read has worked for us because we have been at this for so long.
You will have to decide if you are also limiting the amount of time your child is allowed to spend on the device and make a plan as to how you will convince your child to turn it off.
If necessary, use a written checklist as a visual aid so your child has an easy tool to help him remember the tasks he needs to complete before screen time.
Screen Free Idea Number Four:
LIMIT THE "WHY". Why is your child using the screen? Is it to play a game? Watch an educational video? Practice math facts? (dare to dream) Look up the answer to a history question? Read an ebook?
I use this strategy primarily with my tween who has school-based reasons for using a device. If my child needs to use an electronic device outside of his designated time, he needs to explain to me his justification. He already knows I won't say yes to games or videos, therefore it is usually so he can get an answer to a question or because he has to type up an assignment for school. I also require the device be used in the family room. He cannot shut himself away in his room with a screen.
If you choose this strategy, collaborate with your child on a list of reasons why she may need to use an electronic device. Help your child take ownership and responsibility of their screen time.
Tips & Resources to Help you Limit your Kids' Screen Time
TOOLS TO HELP YOU STAY STRONG!
First: print a copy of our screen-reducing worksheet. It will help you keep on track no matter which one of these plans you choose. Enter your email in the box below and we will send it right over to you.
Things to have on hand so you don't need to use the internet for research (as much):
- A quality dictionary
- A thesaurus
- Book guides for your child's current interests. Investing in a Pokemon handbook and a LEGO Star Wars Minifigure Encyclopedia has saved me many a "Mooooommm, I need to look something up!" moments.
- An atlas
- Science encyclopedia
- Math reference book
- A library card
A few ideas for creative and fun unplugged, screen free time:
- Super easy ideas to keep 2-4 year olds busy
- Unplugged ideas to keep kids busy while you make dinner (will also work for other household chores)
- Make one of these traditional board games
- Ugly but awesomely easy indoor activities
- The biggest list on the planet of Indoor Activities for Kids
- Indoor activities for tweens
- The Unplugged Shop - resources I've hand-selected that will help you on your journey
- Book lists galore - take them to the library or bookshop and have them pick out their own books
Parental controls for screens:
Now that my older child needs to use the computer for school work I limit the sites he can go on. This is not because I don't trust him, it is so I can be aware of what he is doing for school. He comes to me when he needs me to approve a site (which I almost always do) and that opens up the channel for communication. He sees that I value a responsible approach to using the internet. Every browser has a parental controls setting.
I do not have any personal experience with parental control apps for phones and tablets since I have not needed them yet. Here is a resource you might find useful: What you need to know about parental controls at Common Sense Media.
Further reading: (includes affiliate links.)
- "Screen time is taking a toll on children"
- Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World
- Screenagers - a documentary film about screen addiction
- Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance
- Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time
Remember: Patience and Persistence! If you have those, you can succeed in limiting your kids' screen time for long term success.
Tell me about your journey in the comments below, or send me an email!