Today’s children spend hours in front of screens much to their parents’ dismay. It’s no secret that many parents find themselves powerless when it comes to limiting their children access to TV, tablets or smartphones. The following lines will provide you with some useful tips that will give you a significant edge in the never ending battle to reduce your child’s screen time.
1. Creating a Screen-Free Environment
Avoid keeping your TV working in the background if nobody is watching it. Don’t keep your smartphone or iPad on the dining table or on the couch. Children find it hard to control their impulses and desires. Do not put temptation in their way by making it too easy for them to access the screen. Make them ask for It, and then you will be able to have much more control.
2. Make Special “Screen Vouchers”
Each voucher entitles your kid to a limited screen time (for example, 20 minutes to watch her favorite show or play a video game). When the time is over, take the voucher and screen and give them back later on for another limited viewing or playing session.
Using “screen vouchers” will teach your child not to take screen time for granted. She will learn to appreciate the limited, yet precious, time she does have. Furthermore, she will be less frustrated to leave the screen knowing she can get back to it later on.
3. Don’t say “Take a Book”
You can’t expect your child to voluntarily detach herself from a tablet, a smartphone or TV. For her, screen activities are great fun. That’s what most children do today. Ordering her to take a book saying something like ‘’At your age I….” will be ineffective and even counterproductive; she may become averse to reading.
Moreover, don’t use screen time for punishments or rewards (for instance, disconnecting from the Internet as a response to the bad behavior or increasing viewing time as a prize for good behavior). Your child should understand that watching too much TV is bad for her regardless of how she behaved today.
4. Offer an Alternative
It’s much easier to keep yourself busy with a push of a button. For many children, there is nothing enjoyable to do apart from being in front of a screen.
This is your role to prove them wrong. You should show your child that there are other things to do that can be fun as well. Offer her some outdoor activities like playing basketball, riding her bicycle. Encourage her to meet friends (not virtual friends on WhatsApp). If it’s cold outside, you can opt for educational board games. Reading your child a story is always a good thing to do.
It’s far from being easy. You don’t always have the patience required to spend quality time with your child, especially if you work all day and you want some peace of mind when you get home or during the weekend. But you must put some effort and do what you can to enable your child to experience other things outside the screen. You can share the burden with your husband/wife: mom reads a story and daddy plays basketball, etc.
5. Organize Special Friend Days
Talk with other parents and set fixed days on which your child can meet with friends for fun activities. These activities can include sports or common indoor activities, such as drawing pictures, karaoke, baking, cooking or preparing dinner together.
6. Setting “Screen Sabbaticals”
Decide on specific times in which your child cannot access any screen device. For example, when you go on a family trip, forbid access to any screen while everybody is in the car. Let your child enjoy the view outside instead. “Screen sabbaticals” are meant to limit the time children are attached to a smartphone, tablet or TV.
7. Giving positive feedbacks
If your child decided to give up the screen on her own (which doesn’t happen too often), don’t forget to give her some positive feedbacks (‘It’s good that you took a break’, ‘I am happy to see that you can do other things apart from watching TV’) to encourage her.
8. Setting an example
All that is mentioned above is worthless if you can’t set a good example to your child. It will be futile and unfair to criticize her for her excessive screen time while every free minute you have you spend on your smartphone
9. Make it educational
Children will always watch TV and play mobile games. We can’t avoid it altogether. Maybe we shouldn’t. One of the ways to limit the harmful effects of screen time is to encourage our children to watch educational TV programs (e.g. National Geographic, the History Channel) and play games that may help them develop their cognitive abilities and increase their knowledge. As a parent, I would love to see my child playing chess on the computer…