We’ve all heard the statistics revealing the many hours per day that kids are on screens. Some of that time is well spent on creative pursuits, homework, interacting with others, and good old fashioned entertainment. But we all know that sinking feeling when we look at our kids’ glazed eyes and know we’ve moved into a place where that time isn’t being well spent anymore. To help combat this, we’ve collected suggestions on how to manage our kids’ screen time, especially over the holidays, when our usual routines and structures are relaxed.
1. Make screen time a treat, and not the default. You can have your kids earn screen time, or just have clearly defined times when it’s welcome. This encourages kids to assume that at least some of their time will have nothing to do with screens, which helps open up space for other options.
2. Have some hard and fast rules. If dining as a family is important to you, don’t allow any screens at the dinner table. This can be especially important during the holidays, when meals are shared with loved ones we don’t regularly see, and when we’re trying to be intentional around celebration.
3. Be discriminating. Some screen time can be fabulous. I have friends whose kids make movies off the iPad and do all kind of wonderful editing. There are amazing educational tools too – we love Khan Academy. But even for pleasure, not all screen time is creating equal. Make sure when your kids are watching, they’re choosing something they really enjoy rather than just filling up the time.
4. Be safe. Know what your kids are doing online. Beyond the very real dangers of cyber-bullying and online predatory behaviours is a world of more commonplace harms that stem from screen use that does not match your child’s stage of development of maturity. Take advantage of passwords, parental controls, security settings, and your ability to decide where the computers will be used in the home.
5. Discuss your reasons behind the rules. I have stricter rules than most families around screen time and have made a point of explaining my reasons for this. I admit to my kids that I may not always get the balance right, but they know my reasons, and the values that underpin them. The kids may not always appreciate the restrictions, but they do not experience them as arbitrary. Sometimes they even agree with me!
6. Be a good role model. Apply the rules above to yourself! Be as conscious as you can of your phone use, because the kids are watching. Whenever I catch myself or my husband on the phone while our kids wait for us in boredom, I try to fix it by either telling them exactly what I’m doing (hopefully I’m using it as a tool, as with mapping our route, paying for their fees, looking up a recipe). But if I’m not doing anything relevant, I try to acknowledge the error and put the phone away. I dread the idea of waiting for the kids to put away their phones (when they get them) while I look on bored, so I am motivated not to be someone doing that to them.
7. Encourage other activities. Getting outside, playing sports and games, and even reading alongside or to your kids can be real sources of joy. If this doesn’t come quite naturally, have an activity or two in mind to suggest when there’s a lull in the air. There is so much fun to be had, and pretty soon, your kids will be making suggestions too.
And on that note, I’m turning off this screen to make some stamped wrapping paper with my peeps. Happy holidays!