How to Create Screen Time Limits

Why are screen time limits so important? Today, our children are growing up with technology everywhere!  They have access to 24/7 entertainment, news and social media. There are even TV channels that have children’s programs on 24/7.

Many kids don’t get outside enough because they are glued to the screen.  Kids today are losing their sense of adventure and imagination because the constant entertainment of the screen has left them not needing to entertain themselves. Many kids aren’t developing social skills because their only interactions with people are through screens.  Screens are also causeing a lack of free play time.

Free play is one of the most important aspects of child development.  It is when a child is left to just play that they strengthen their creativity and imagination.  They practice and learn problem solving skills as well as large and fine motor skills.  However, when screen time encroaches on free play time, development slows.  Social emotional development, large and fine motor development, and even quality of sleep can be effected by screen time.

As parents, there are ways we can combat this lack of free play time, and help our children.  A big part of it is limiting screen time.  But what should the limits be, and how do we enforce them with our older kids?

Children Under 2

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping all screens off around babies and toddlers younger than 18 months. They say a little screen time can be okay for older toddlers, and children 2 and older should get no more than an hour of screen time per day.

But the AAP emphasizes that setting time limits isn’t enough: It’s also important for parents to choose high-quality shows and games, and join their children during screen time instead of just handing over their phone to be used as an electronic babysitter.”

Young children don’t yet have the ability to learn anything from a screen. In fact, it can inhibit their verbal skills.  Verbal skills are best developed through real interactions with their parents and other people around them.  So rather than sitting your child in front of a show to “help them learn,” read a book to them, sing songs with them, and just talk to them.  These things will help to develop verbal and social skills in your young child.

Screen Time Limits for Children 3+

Kids who are older than 3 can have more screen time, and actually have the ability to learn and benefit from educational programming and interactive educational games.  However, this screen time should also be limited to about just one per day.  The trick is to seek out the high-quality games and programs that will help your child learn and develop.  And, again, watching or playing with your child is important so you can be aware of what they are learning, and have follow-up discussions.

Instead of screen time, let them just play!!  Allow them to run around outside, or give them toys that they can create with.  LEGOS, blocks, Play-dough, costumes, dolls and action figures, pretend kitchens or stores all help to spark a child’s creativity and imagination.  When kids are left to their own devices when at play, their creativity awakens, and their social and problem solving skills develop and strengthen.  Even something as simple as a box of crayons and paper can get their brains going.

Tweens & Teens

It’s when kids get older, and get their own devices given to them, that this limiting really starts to get difficult.

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that some homework assignments will require the use of a computer and possibly even the internet. But there are ways to limit your older child’s screen time.  And since you really can’t control how much time they will need to spend online (or on a device) for homework, I suggest focusing on setting the recreational screen time limits (games, TV, movies, social media).

Make hard and fast rules about when and where screen time can be had.  I know many parents have a docking/charging station in a main room of their homes.  This is a place where all phones are to be plugged in and kept.  This keeps it so that your kids are not always on their phones in the house.  Many parents also have a “no technology behind closed doors” policy.  This keeps your kids from wielding their tablets or phones alone in their rooms.

Another option is to have a work station in common areas of the home.  This way if a child requires internet access for a homework assignment, they are in a communal area.  This may work for some, but not all.  Figure out what works best for your family.

A good way to set the rules and limits of device use is to have a screen time limits/internet use contract with your child.  This would be a document that clearly lays out all the rules and screen time limits your child is to abide by if they are to be allowed to have their own phone or tablet.  It should also clearly state the consequences your child will face if the contract is broken.

Lead by Example

But setting screen time limits isn’t enough; you need to lead by example, and limit your own screen time as well.  But what does that look like?  Many of us work via emails and messaging, but we can control when we work.  If we work from home, we can be sure to keep our work in our home office, at our home desk, or only between certain hours of the day.  When our kids are around and require our attention, we should make sure we PUT OUR PHONES DOWN and give them our undivided attention.  This demonstrates that people, that THEY, are more important than our screens.

When our children are off playing, or at school, and don’t require our direct attention, follow the same rules you set for them in regards to screen time limits.  Have a free moment? Try picking up a book instead of your phone.  Or occupy yourself with a physical task rather than always reaching for your screen to entertain you.

At meal times, create a no-screen policy.  Give your family the opportunity to talk, share and connect with one another.  When screens constantly become a presence in our lives, our relationships cease to grow and deepen.

Too much screen time can lead to lessened sleep quality, can lead to obesity, and can also lead to depression.  We grew up without technology, so teaching balance is new ground for parents these days.  However, if we make screen time limits and balance a priority lesson for our children, they will grow up and be able to pass the lesson on to their kids as well.