According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages 8-18 now spend, on average, a whopping 7.5 hours in front of a screen for entertainment each day, 4.5 of which are spent watching TV. Over the course of a year, that adds up to 114 full days watching a screen for fun. Now that school is out, how can parents find a balance between screens and childhood?
Get a Plan in Place NOW
Before another unstructured and screen-filled day takes place, create a plan. Keep in mind the ages of your kids and the types of devices they have. Devices such as iPads, iPhones, and Nintendo Switch consoles all have screen time monitors or parental control apps to make this task easier. Some smart TVs have screen time controls, the ability to set up kid profiles and add PIN protection in order to access channels. Even if your plan is loose and may need tightening up later, better to have something in place than nothing.
Here are some options for screen time boundaries:
- No screens an hour before bedtime. Try finding some family read-aloud books to read together before bed. Consider making a blanket fort in the basement with lights and pillows. Although they may roll their eyes at first, soon they’ll be begging for another page! Try Sarah Mackenzie’s ‘Read Aloud Revival’ for book suggestions. This way kids won’t feel like they’re missing out once screens go away at night.
- Priorities first, screens last. If it’s really important to you that your kids read, exercise, take care of pets, do chores, practice music instruments, or be creative on a daily basis, then these are the “keys” they need to unlock screen time. Charts, apps, and good old mom can help remind them that we focus on the important stuff first.
- Make the determination between active and passive screen time. At the end of the day, screens are tools that will not likely ever go away. So teaching our kids the risks of abusing a tool like screens, and also how to effectively use that tool is very important. Passive screen time would look like hours of YouTube video compilations of cat memes. Active screen time looks like watching YouTube videos to learn stop motion animation or how to make paper airplanes.
- Set a good example. Let your kids see you walk away from your phone to read or water the garden. Showing your kids what it looks like to have healthy screen time balance might be hard, because most of us were addicted to our phones or Facebook before we even knew what was happening. Talk about how it can be hard as an adult to go screen-free. Don’t get defensive if your kids point out poor screen habits, and help them find screen-free family activities you can all do together. (A Mario Kart Family Tournament isn’t a bad idea either.)
As families continue to fight the battle of screen time, many organizations have come up with ways to support families.
- The American Academy of Pediatric’s HealthyChildren.org’s Family Media Plan helps families be aware of when they’re using media to achieve their purpose.
- Internetmatters.org has a full page of screen time resources for families.
There are also several parental control apps:
OurPact: Parental Control and Kid Tracker
Kaspersky Safe Kids
No matter how your family approaches screen time this summer, just remember that your plan doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to invest in a bunch of apps or tech. Simply setting expectations and trying to consistently honor those screen boundaries is still better than having three months of screen time free for all.
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