Screen time can be overwhelming and a challenge to wrap your mind around. As parents, we are constantly made aware of what to do and what not to do with our kids. We are told how the negative impact of screen time can seep into all areas of their lives, and at the same time, technology is all around us and not going away. We are reminded at each well-child doctor appointment to limit screen time to 1-2 hours a day and to forego screen time altogether if kids are under two years old. So, how do we embrace screen time in a healthy way? Is it possible?
I am extremely thankful for all the research available regarding screen time. Through a simple online search I can gain a better understanding of the harmful effects those shiny little screens have on my kid’s brain. If you haven’t done the research, do it. Educating yourself on what is happening in your child’s brain is helpful on so many levels. On the flip side, all the pressure to be a perfect parent, while making brain-healthy choices for our kids can be such a daunting task. Sometimes we want to throw in the towel, follow the crowd, and give in to extensive amounts of screen time just for our own sanity. But is that really the best decision for us or our kids?
With three little boys between the ages of two and five, a husband that works in the technology field, and my daily computer use as I work from home, technology surrounds us. However, even with technology all around us, it is our choice how and when we want our family using technology. We have to consciously make a choice to establish balance with our screen time so all the computers, tablets, phones, TVs and gaming systems do not take over.
First off, don’t be so hard on yourself! If 90 percent of the time you are working hard and being intentional about finding balance in your family’s screen time use, I say you are doing great. Some days kids get sick. Some days parents get sick. Every day is not a perfect scenario. Recognizing this—not feeling like you’re the worst parent in the world if you let them have a little more screen time in these situations—can be such a relief. The important thing is that we are aware of the choices we are making as parents and we continue to pursue healthier screen time habits in our home.
Watch your child’s behavior before and after using screen time. I have noticed the length of time can impact each child differently, as well as the type of screen and what they are doing with the screen. For example: games on a tablet or phone close to their face may incur a different response than watching a show on a television across the room. Observe the way they react and let this shape the way you structure their screen time.
If you choose to use screen time, establish a routine that incorporates it at a specific time of day. When we did this with our kids, the amount of times they asked to watch a show in the morning significantly decreased: they knew they would get to watch something after lunch.
If your scheduled screen time for the kids isn’t until the afternoon, don’t give in to their desire to watch a show first thing in the morning (even if it means you can take a little more time to wake up). You will regret it the rest of the day. Their routine and behaviors will be thrown off and then you will be thrown off too. I only know this because I’ve done it a handful...okay maybe two handfuls of times. It is not worth it.
This is a hard one! The temptation to use my phone and constantly text my friends is a struggle I face every day. Sometimes I just want a break from preschool conversations! Deep down I know it’s not good for my kids to see me on my phone so much. Limiting the time I have my phone with me is not easy, but I’m working on it. My husband helps me remember this and we are working on it together. We don’t want our kids to remember us always being on our phones. As much as possible, we are trying to be intentional about the way we use screen time in front of our kids.
Whether it is a movie night, a video game, or a learning game on a tablet, enjoy a little screen time together. This is the best way your kids can learn to have healthy screen time use and it is more meaningful because you are creating an experience. We like doing family movie nights a couple times a month. By doing this, we are experiencing something fun while watching a movie together. The kids look forward to this not because of the screen time, but because it is something we are doing as a family. Often times, movies bring up good conversations and if there was good music in the movie, we listen (and sing) to the soundtrack the following week.
In addition to establishing healthy screen time balance, if your young kids are using screen time, it is extremely important that you take advantage of parental controls to help monitor the content your child sees. You may have babies now but once they start moving from the toddler stage to preschool, they will easily be able to access more on your devices. Even in our best efforts to monitor their device use, sometimes we have to run to another room to check on the other kids, answer the door, or get dinner ready. Within just a few clicks, your child could get into content that you don’t want them seeing at such a young age.
It takes a little time, but you will feel more at ease if you set up parental controls. The restrictions vary from setting time limits and times of day the device can be used, to limiting content not appropriate for certain ages. Some platforms have better parental controls than others, but the following links will point you in the right direction to creating a safer online environment for your little people.
And, if your little kid knows the password to your phone, change it. It only encourages the use of screen time if we hand our preschooler our phone and they unlock it. If we unlock it for them and stay close to monitor their time with it, we can help them develop healthier screen time habits.
Screen time does not have to be a bad thing! All children, even young ones, have the ability to establish healthy balance in their screen time use. It all starts with you and the choices you are making as a parent. How we choose to manage technology in our home sets the stage for screen time balance in our children’s lives.
Anna is the Events Manager for Pure Desire Ministries. Her background is in event planning and social media. Anna also is an online group leader for Pure Desire Women's Groups.