Screen Time Tips For Families

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children over the age of two should have their screen time limited to one to two hours per day.  And kids under two should not have any screen time at all.  That’s a pretty tall order in today’s society.

Screen time used to just include the family television set in the den.  Now families have video games, handheld electronics, computers, iPods, cell phones, and portable dvd players to contend with, just to name a few.

As a child psychologist, I know that increased screen time is associated with childhood obesity, social skills deficits, and attention problems. Plus, children are often exposed to violence and other risky behaviors when watching television or playing video games, not to mention an onslaught of commercials and advertising.

But as a mom of four kids, I also know that it’s often down right impossible to keep screen time to under two hours a day.  Especially during the school year when homework assignments and projects require the use of a computer!

And truthfully, who hasn’t used some form of screen babysitting so they can put dinner on the table, help an older sibling with their homework, or keep everyone quiet so the baby can take a nap?  I know I have.

If you’re like me and find these recommendations too hard to achieve, don’t despair.  You may not be able to get your kids down to under two hours of screen time a day, but you can work towards reducing their viewing habits to a healthier level.  Here’s how:

  • Monitor your own technology use.  Before tackling your children’s use (or overuse) of the screen, take a good look at your own habits.  As with most things, our children learn from watching us.  If we’re spending all of our free time watching reality shows on tv, checking Facebook on our laptop, or playing Angry Birds on our iPad, then we’re sending them the message that we’re okay with too much screen time.  You don’t need to eliminate your use of technology all together, just work towards decreasing it especially when you’re in the presence of your children.
  • Make a screen free schedule.  Even though the AAP recommends two hours or less of screen time for kids a day, that might not seem doable initially for you and your kids.  Instead, try setting up chunks of time each day that are screen free at your house (for example, from 3 p.m.-7 p.m. on school nights unless it’s related to homework).  Then make sure that all members of the family follow the same guidelines, not just the kids!  Come up with some fun activities to do as a family during the screen free time, encourage your kids to play outside, have them help you with dinner, go for a family walk, or just sit and talk over a board game.
  • Set up screen free zones.  Now that our kids have screens that are portable, it’s a good idea to declare some areas of your life and home to be screen free entirely.  I’m a big advocate of a screen free dinner table.  Or you could shut off the dvd player in your car for trips shorter than 30 minutes.  When you and your kids are in a screen free zone, use your time to talk instead and make sure that you follow the same rules that you establish for your kids.

So, if you’re like me and find that keeping your kids screen time to one to two hours a day is unachievable most days, don’t despair.  Follow these tips and you’ll find that you can reduce their use of television, computer time, and video games to a healthier level without having to eliminate screens from your home altogether.  While they might fight you about it at first, it won’t be long before your whole family will find out that some of their favorite family moments are shared when all of the screens are turned off.

If you feel like you’re spending too much time using technology and not enough time with your kids, try my Focused Moms Challenge to help regain your focus and get back to parenting with a purpose!

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