Being mindful of or controlling screen time is a controversial issue for parents and kids. It can be frustrating for parents to know how much screen time to allow their kids per day. Many sources suggest that time spent on screens can cause shifts in brain activity or affect emotional processing and dopamine function. On the other hand, other studies say that there’s little evidence screen use is harmful in itself.
With all the information and opinions out there about screen time, it’s understandable that parents might feel overwhelmed or unsure what to think. In fact, a survey from 2017 showed that the top source of “mom guilt” was the amount of screen time they gave their kids. It wasn’t missing their game or recital, or working too much. Moms felt most guilty about the screen time their kids were getting.
Having screens in your home is practically unavoidable. If you want to develop better screen use habits for your family, check out our tips below.
Ask yourself 4 important questions about your habits
Before setting restrictions on screen time, ask yourself the following questions to examine your habits:
- Is your family’s screen time under control?
- Does it interfere with what your family wants to do?
- Does it interfere with sleep?
- Can you and your family control snacking during screen time?
If you find that screen time is interfering with your family’s schedule, habits, or sleep, you may be using screens too often. Mindless snacking while watching TV, playing a video game or working on your computer is also an unhealthy habit.
Set age-appropriate limits for kids
To reduce unnecessary or unhealthy screen use, try setting some appropriate boundaries for your kids. For toddlers and kids under 5, be sure to prioritize unplugged playtime. Let them play outside, read a book, or play with their toys. Choose high-quality shows or games for 1 hour of screen use per day, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests.
For kids 6 ages and up, screen time will depend on your family’s habits and what screen time they may need for school. You can limit it in certain situations to encourage healthy behavior. For example, keep screens out of your children’s bedrooms…and yours too! With TVs and tablets out of the bedroom, it’s less likely to affect your sleep. Keep screens turned off at mealtimes so the family can eat together. Don’t forget to lead by example, and avoid checking your work email at the dinner table. You also might consider choosing one or two days during the week when everyone in the family has no limits on screen time, whether that’s video games or Netflix shows. This may work if you don’t allow screen time during the week, or allow very little for school work.
Stick with your plan
Remember that every family is different. One plan that may work for one family may not work for yours. And that’s okay. Be honest with yourself when examining your family’s screen time. Set attainable boundaries and be firm about enforcing them (yes, that means you and your spouse too.) Once you understand your screen use habits and work towards using screens more mindfully, you and your kids will be able to properly manage screen time going forward.