Summer vacations nowadays often look different than they used to. Children may be wanting tablet time over pool time, spending their days on their phones instead of in the sun, or connecting with their friends through their gaming devices rather than meeting up at the park. The challenge is, what is the correct balance of screen time, spending time outside, playing online games, exercising, and reading especially if they prefer their time on their screens. Let’s discuss your options and what a balanced screen diet can look like for you and your children.
Talk With Your Child
It’s super common for children these days to want to be on their screens at all times and they may not understand why they can’t play all day everyday, especially if they are young. This is why talking with your child is critical to not only creating a balance of screen time and time offline throughout their days, but for them to engrain this practice into their lives. Understanding why offline time is important before enforcing rules around it will help your kids to prioritize it and regulate it on their own because they know it is important rather than because mom or dad said so.
Also, getting your children excited about offline time will allow them to see it as something they want to do, rather than something they have to do. While explaining offline time to your child can benefit them, getting them excited and looking forward to going to the park with their friends or reading the next chapter of their favorite story will have them forgetting about their tablets. One way this can be done is by asking your children what they would like to do with their time offline.
You can also confer with your children about screen time limits. This works best with older children, but allowing children to help make the decision themselves around how much screen time should be allowed a day can possibly cause less resistance. Especially if the children are beginning to understand that offline time is important and why limiting screen time is good for them, allowing them to be in on the decision can solidify this information.
What Screen Time Balance Actually Looks Like
A website that can help you to visualize your child’s schedule and screen time is the Academy of Pediatrics’ Media Time Calculator at healthychildren.org. This site divides up the hours in the day, from sleep, to screen time, to meals, to physical activity and more. First click the green “Media Time Calculator” button and enter your children’s names and ages. It will then take you to a page where it will allow you to divide up each child’s hours of their days. It begins with the amount of sleep recommended for each child’s age, and it begins with the rest of the day filled with screen time. Watch how the amount of screen time shrinks as you add an hour and a half to meal time each day. Same goes for family time; if your family spends an hour at the end of the night talking to each other about their day, then that takes an hour away from screen time. Even with personal care, if your child takes a bath each night and brushes their teeth morning and night, that time takes away from screen time. You can even add your own category for things unique to your family, like walking the dog or time at grandma’s house. This visual representation of your child’s day can show you what healthy screen time balance looks like.
Also, to get a better estimate of how much time your child should be spending on each of these categories, click on the category title and healthychildren.org will dive into recommendations.
An option for families with less-structured lives can instead have their children earn screen time for offline activities. For example, 30 minutes of reading will allow for 15 minutes of screen time, and playing outside for an hour will earn them 30 minutes of screen time. More examples can include cleaning their room, learning something new, helping cook dinner, doing something creative, playing with their siblings, etc. This method is extremely customizable for families and the tasks that they can do to earn screen time can change depending upon the day. With this method, however, it can be important to emphasize that they should not be doing these offline activities just for the additional screen time. It is key to describe the importance of each activity that they do, so they are not only doing it for the reward.
Tips for Parents
Setting these routines and boundaries with your children may be difficult as they are beginning to learn about why they can’t sit on their devices all day long. Here are a few tips that parents and professionals have found to make screen time regulations go more smoothly.
- Set designated times for screens: Set designated times that are specifically for screen time: If your child is having a hard time giving up their devices, setting a specific time for screen time during the day can help regulate the child. Giving and taking their devices at random times throughout the day can be confusing for little ones. Once the routine is set, it should become easier for children to understand.
- Use parental controls: If the transition from screen time to offline activities is a struggle for you and your child, parental controls can help. These controls lock the device after a certain amount of time that you designate, which does not allow for the child to try to negotiate more screen time when time is up. This helps to create a boundary for you and your child and enforces the rule.
- Eliminate background TV: Let’s be honest, you turn on the news in the morning to watch the weather and oftentimes that TV ends up staying on most of the day, even if nobody is watching it. Limiting that time that the screen is on limits screen distractions, and shows children that there is a time for screens, and after those screens get shut off (MayoClinic).
- Lead by example: Children model their parents’ behavior, so it is key you are showing them that you follow these screen time rules too. I know it can be hard when lots of parents are working remotely from home, but try to be present when your kids are around and lead by example. Show them that you don’t need screen time either (NIH).
- Get creative!: What’s going to make kids excited for their offline time is being excited about what they will be doing when they log off. There are plenty of parents out there that are sharing their creative ideas of activities for children on the internet. Pinterest is a great place to find fun, creative, and unique games that will keep your children’s minds working, creative juices flowing, and off of screens!
Balancing screen time and offline time is not easy, but with some guidance it can be done, and it can be enjoyable!
What screen-time challenges do you and your family face? Let us know in the comments below!