Technology is a major part of our modern lives. Most importantly, a huge part of our time is spent in front of a screen, be it a phone, a desktop or even a TV screen and it affects, not only our eyes, but also our mental health. Just like us adults, children spend a lot of time, especially in today’s situations where even the schools are running online, in front of a screen. The entire world seems to run on screen based technology and as a parent, this can be a positive as well as a negative trend. It depends on how it affects your children. Limiting your child’s exposure to the screen is key to ensuring they do not submit to prolonged screen time, affecting their mind and physical health.
There is a lot more to managing screen time than just reducing duration. In this article, we shall list out all the things that you, as a parent, need to know when managing your young one’s screen time.
Understand Your Child’s Maturity Level
Before making any rules and regulations, you should have a strong grasp of your child’s maturity. Typically, as a child grows older, his/her handle on responsibilities and making logical decisions becomes stronger as well. However, this is not always the case since every child is unique. If your young one has displayed negative traits like irresponsible behaviour and a bad attitude, imagine all the negative ways in which the media can amplify that. On the other hand, positive attributes can also be encouraged through a healthy use of technology. This is where your role begins: ensuring your little one learns handling technology with responsibility.
Let Your Child Earn Their Screen Time
In this day and age, we parents often hand our children everything that we, an older generation, couldn’t have. We had to work hard just to afford things like a cellphone or a laptop. Technology was a lot costlier to come by back when we were younger. This makes us susceptible to our children’s every demand, no matter the cost. This goes with screen time too. We often let our children watch TV just because they asked us once. Establish a rent and borrow rule when loaning your device to them, and ensure they understand the transaction. The tasks can vary as per your child’s maturity level and ability to handle responsibilities. For instance, a younger child can easily be asked to make their own bed or tidy up their rooms while an older child can be asked to help you in cooking or doing a more advanced task before being allowed to watch TV or play video games. This will teach them the value of earning to fulfil their wants. Let them know that you own the device and they are renting it out to them.
Model Appropriate Screen Time Behaviour
As we all know, parents are their children’s first teachers. Children learn many things and pick up most of their habits from what they observe with their parents. So if you want your child to use the technology appropriately, you need to implement healthy habits yourself. When the children see their parents limiting their screen time, they develop a habit of doing the same.
Teach the Correct Screen Time Behaviour
With older children, it’s not enough just to model an appropriate screen time behaviour. You need to teach them too. With the explosion of Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, children should be aware of the dangers that accompany these platforms; as well as how to safely use the internet. Teach them about things that are okay and things that are not okay, such as cyberbullying. They need to be extra careful and refrain from sharing any sort of personal information online, no matter how trivial. As parents, we must understand that teenagers can be just as naive and can be easy targets for scammers and pedophiles. They need to be taught that the things they post on the internet stay on the internet, often for a lifetime, and always subject to misuse. As a rule of thumb, tell them not to post anything that they wouldn’t want their future children to see a couple of decades down the line.
Set Aside a ‘Technology-free Time’
It is imperative for any family to have a technology-free time together every day. With the screen, desktops and phones off, families can have in-depth conversations, stay in touch with each others’ lives and stay connected at heart. This creates a more intimate bond while promoting a healthy family dynamic and a healthier relationship.
Set Rules & Time Limits
Set usage rules and time limits for when the children are on screen. This can include certain days of the week or even hours. Relaxation on these rules here and there is always okay, but beware of complacency. Decide what parts of the house are ‘No Screen Zones’. For example, dinner tables, study tables, etc. One very important thing to remember is that the children should power down their screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Setting usage limits and rules is the cornerstone for managing a good screen time system. Make sure you share these rules with the relatives or parents of the child’s friends when they go over to their place.
Let the Children Know about the Consequences
Make sure that your children know the consequences of not following the screen time rules and limits. This can range from losing access to the phone for a few hours to even weeks. In order to enforce the rules, use something like a Parental Control app. Most devices and apps, such as YouTube and Netflix have parental controls in the ‘Settings’ menu that allow you to regulate the content your child is consuming. Parental Control apps not only allow you to monitor your child’s activity on the devices but also block certain games and applications that can adversely affect your child’s mental health and development.
Select the Content the Children Can Access
Children should only be allowed to consume content that you have approved. Letting the children decide for themselves often results in a bad situation for them as well as for the parents. When approving content, you can refer to the content ratings, but don’t blindly trust it. Always choose content that helps your child’s mind and intellect to develop while entertaining them.
Connect the Screen Time to the Value System
Let’s suppose your child comes home one day and complains that all his friends have watched a particular movie that you have restricted him from watching. You have probably done this because the movie is not appropriate for your child, or children in general. However, your child may not be able to understand the ‘Value System’ at the foundation of your decision. If that is the case, this would be a perfect time to explain why s/he is not allowed to watch that movie. Explain to them the Value System as a way for exhibiting what type of behavior is acceptable.
Limit Exposure to Toddlers
At times, parents often use tablets and TVs to keep their infants and toddlers entertained while they work. Infants and toddlers’ eyes are a lot more sensitive than older children and excessive screen time only makes things worse for them as they grow older. Moreover, these infants and toddlers face issues when concentrating when they grow up. Babies and toddlers should have little to no exposure to screens. That means no iPads, tablets, phones, TVs, etc. If you have older children along with toddlers, start teaching them why their younger siblings need to be kept from these devices.
Stop Using Screens to Distract or Soothe Children
Using the screen to distract or sooth the children often backfires. By allowing the children to use the screen to calm themselves, there will come a time when they will not be able to calm themselves without a screen. Things can quickly go more out of hand during a power outage or when the internet goes off and those are just two examples where the screen is not accessible. By using electronic devices to distract or calm the children, you may end up making them, as well as yourself, dependent on the devices. You no longer hold the power to calm your children down as a parent.
Make Sure the Children Know that Limiting Screen Time is for Their Own Good
Limiting screen time is just like washing hands before eating. Just like eating junk food can make the children sick, too much screen time can cause bad eyesight and obesity due to lack of physical movements. As a parent, you should explain the importance and the need to limit screen time. Teach them about the negative effects of watching TV or staying on the phone for too long.
Develop an Active Lifestyle
If you want your child to maintain a healthy balance between screen time and life, start engaging with them. Take your children outside, play with them and show involvement in their life. Take them to the park, museums, aquariums or other interesting places. Point being, offer your children a better alternative to the phone/TV. Let them know that there are things that they can enjoy far more than being in front of a screen and not doing anything at all for hours. Allow them a chance to explore other much healthier and better options.
Provide Access to Print Media
In addition to electronic devices, keep plenty of print media at home. That means lots of newspapers, magazines, books, board games, etc. This might seem like an idea from the stone age and your children may see them as antiques/relics, but you need to let your children know that knowledge, information and entertainment comes in all sorts of forms and not only in electronics.
Teach Your Children to Use Screens Productively
Instead of just playing video games or watching cat videos on YouTube, teach your children to use the internet to learn new and interesting things. There are many channels on YouTube that share informative videos like National Geographic, Animal Planet and History. Encourage the children to use their screen time to follow their passion. By using the ability of the technology to educate, you not only feed your child’s intellectual curiosity but also ensure that they learn to use the technology as a tool and not a toy.
Be the Parent Your Child Needs You to be and Not the Parent Your Child wants You to be
At some point, your child may resent you for limiting their screen time and they may complain that none of their friends have to go through this ‘dictatorship’. If you are not sure about your parenting abilities and the bigger picture, you are bound to think that you are depriving the children of their childhood. Do not fret. You are going in the right direction. Be stern and make sure your children understand why you are limiting the screen time and the importance of rules. Be the parent your children need and not the parent they want.
Remember, when your children’s screen time,, you also need to provide them with options and alternatives to do in their now-free time. Let them understand that there are far more fun activities beyond their electronic devices and video games. Finally, the idea here is to teach the children to see technology as a tool and not a toy.