5 ways to manage screen time for the whole family
Staying connected as a family is tougher in a world of forever-pinging smartphones, tablets and laptops. And then COVID-19 happened. For many of us, it meant life mostly moving online. Work, school, engaging with friends and family – all on screens.
Even before lockdown, screens were already pervasive. The average U.S. child under 8 spent almost 2 and a half hours of screen time a day. Already, this was more than the recommendations set out by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology [CSEP].
When you’re evaluating your family’s time on devices, consider the 4 types of screen time:
- Passive consumption. This includes watching TV/tablet, reading, and listening to music.
- Interactive consumption. This means playing games and browsing the Internet.
- Communication. This involves social media, texting, instant messaging, and video-chatting.
- Content creation. This means using devices to make digital art or music.
Staying indoors and moving your lives on screens kept your family safe. Remind yourself of that and acknowledge you did the best you can. Focus on what you can do moving forward to bring back more ‘in real life’ interactions to your post-pandemic life.
Here are five simple tips, from professionals and parents alike, to start a digital reset.
1. Ease into a slower life
Parents have an important role to play in shutting down screens. Experts from the Boston Children’s Hospital encourage things like:
- Carving out specific, screen-free play time;
- Encourage creativity by providing simple items from the recycling bin to build crafts;
- Actively help your child transition from screen to active play time.
Make family activities outside the home screen-free, suggests child and family therapist Joanna Seidel.
“For example, no one should have phones out in a restaurant,” she says. “Kids need to learn to be patient and talk to adults.”
Keith Saulnier, dad of three, also preaches the virtues of slow living. “As we’ve reduced our kids’ screen time, they’ve complained about being bored,” Saulnier explains. “But bored can be good. It forces them to entertain themselves. Now we’re more likely to find them reading books or playing with LEGO.”
2. Turn off the WiFi
If you really want kids to limit their screen time, make sure the same rules apply to the adults. (See 4 simple steps you can take to curb your cell phone addiction.)
“Fostering healthy technology use starts with parents,” says Seidel. “That means putting the phone down at the end of the day. And going several hours without picking it up.”
Want a foolproof way to do this? Turn off the home router. “Some of my clients shut off the WiFi at a certain time of night,” says Seidel. “The whole family follows that rule.”
3. Plan more outdoor activities
Playing outside with your kids is a great way to bond as a family.
And there’s another potential benefit: protecting your kid’s eyes. A recent study found that near-sighted six-year-olds generally spent more time indoors than their peers.
“We can’t conclude that kids are spending all their time indoors on a screen. There is potential for correlation,” says Dr. Christine Law, pediatric ophthalmologist.
Her advice? “At the very least, kids should spend the same amount of time outdoors as they spend on their screens.”
4. Make screen time a trade-off – and make sure your kids ask first
For Kelly Jones, a mother of two, screen time is earned.
“Responsibilities like putting away clothes, tidying, music practice, homework come before screen time,” she says. “We find that the tasks get done with a lot less whining.”
5. It’s all about balance
Finally, remember that moderation is key. Kids live in a digital world. Parents need to make sure kids are comfortable with technology. With home schooling, Zoom calls with Grandma and seeing parents work from home, most kids are now quite tech-savvy. Now, it’s up to parents to lead the way towards a new balance.