9 Tips for Setting Screen Time Limits for your Kids

9 Tips for Setting Screen Time Limits for your Kids

27 Jun

There’s been much talk lately about the amount of screen time the average Australian child has. Many are quick to judge the kids and parents — but with the average household having six internet-connected devices, who can blame them for wanting more?  

According to the Weekly Review, the time children spend looking at a screen has doubled since 1995, up from 3 hours a day to more than six hours a day. With smartphones, tablets, laptops, gaming consoles and smart TVs — it makes sense, right?

The reality is that these days, screens are a part of life. There’s no avoiding them, but there are ways to restrict kids from accessing them on a regular basis. The Department of Health says that babies aged 0-18 months should have no screen time at all (except for the occasional video chat with Grandma and Grandpa) and children aged 2-5 should have no more than one hour of screen time per day.

Understanding screen time

To understand the need to restrict screen time, it’s important you know what screen time is and where it can be useful. Screen time can be:

  1. Interactive: video games, communicating via Skype, using online tools to draw pictures.
  1. Not interactive: sitting still and watching tv shows, movies or YouTube clips.
  1. Educational: doing maths and spelling homework online, taking part in an ‘educational’ game.
  1. Recreational: playing games or watching videos for the sake of fun.

What are the benefits of screen time?

In very small doses, screen time can have a range of benefits. This includes technological fluency, easy access to academics, and games that get kids dancing, moving and swinging. But don’t use screen time as a distraction tool. Get involved when your child is using a screen and use it as a tool for learning and bonding.

Talk to your child about what’s going on so they understand what’s in front of them. Get them to solve creative puzzles. Think of ways their screen play can be blended with real life play, for example, playing Minecraft might get your child interested in designing buildings on paper or watching a YouTube clip might encourage them to explore their own video editing skills.

Risks of too much screen time

Time spent looking at screens can have physical, developmental, safety and other risks. For example, kids can get sore, irritated and dry eyes, headaches and suffer fatigue. Babies and toddlers are attracted to the light, movement and activity of screens, but can’t work out what these things mean. Screens can make them tired and some babies may even get distressed.

Too much screen time can have an impact on your child’s language development and social skills. This is because children learn language and social skills through real-life interactions. Too much screen time can also affect your child’s ability to have conversations, maintain eye contact, pay attention in school, and read body language.  

In terms of safety, your child can encounter dangerous material or people on the internet and can be exposed to negative media messages, violent imagery, coarse language and stereotypical representations of gender.

How to set screen time limits

Having weighed the benefits against the risks, you should have an idea of how much screen time you feel comfortable with. This is your decision — we can only recommend that you keep it low.

Get your kids involved in the process of setting limits if they are old enough. For example, design a set of “technology tickets” which can be used as a way to monitor screen time. Once they have used the time up that their ticket allows, screens go off and screen time is done for the day. These tickets shouldn’t be used as rewards or removed as punishment and are not designed to be controlling, but they will help your children use screens thoughtfully.

Other ideas you can try include:

1. Tech free zones

There are certain areas of the home where technology shouldn’t be accessible. This includes the bedroom and dinner table. There are also times when technology should be off-limits, such as just before bed or during family time. If you’re up for the challenge, cut yourself off too to make it fair. Have a bowl, basket or common area where phones and devices are put at a set time each day/night.

2. Give warning

Try to refrain from simply declaring “time’s up”. Let your child know when they have 10 minutes left, then five minutes left, then two minutes left. This way they won’t be hit with an unexpected “times up” when they think they should have more time left.

3. Use a timer

Children typically respond better to a timer going off than a parent telling them to get off their device. Use the oven timer or the timer on your phone, or even set a time on the device your child is using. Invite your child to set it for an even better response when time is up. The more autonomy they have, the more responsive they will be to the deadline.

4. Lead by example

The more your child sees you on your screen, the more they are going to want a screen themselves. Set a good example and stay away from your screens as much as possible when the kids are around. Be careful with statements such as “I’ll be right there once I’ve sent this email”, as this example of screen dependence will influence your child’s expectations around screens.

5. Make ‘real life’ more fun

The more fun ‘real life’ is, the less desire they will have for screens. Children are drawn to screens because they promise excitement, so put the excitement outside and they’ll follow. The outdoors can be hugely appealing with the additions of bikes, balls, ride-on toys, cubbies, scooters, slides, swings, toy excavators and more.

HipKids is your one-stop shop for outdoor and indoor play. HipKids offers a huge range of beautifully designed and functional outdoor toys that will last the test of time. Born from the minds of parents, HipKids knows exactly how to make the outdoors more appealing to your little ones.

6. Be accepting but firm

Sometimes your child will plead with you to let them finish a level or finish sending a message. Don’t be too rigid here if their time is up, but don’t let them drag it out either. Sit down next to them to show that time is up and that you expect them to hop straight off as soon as they are done. Make it a rule that ‘bonus time’ can be no more than one minute and — that it’s not allowed to be used too often.

7. Talk to your kids

Parents don’t always give their kids enough credit. But credit is important for putting the ‘self’ into ‘self-control’. Talk to your kids about why they shouldn’t spend too much time in front of a screen and give them a better understanding of the risks associated with screen overload. Kids who understand that it’s not healthy or beneficial to have too much screen time are less likely to try and break the rules compared to kids who think, “I can’t play on the iPad because my parents are mean”.

8. Encourage other activities

Make screen time a privilege which comes from spending time doing other activities. Keep some technology timecards on the fridge and hand them out when you are satisfied that they’ve spent adequate time reading, using their imagination or drawing. Don’t give out more technology time cards than you are comfortable with (still stick within the limits) but don’t just make them a given either. Screen time should be a privilege not a right.

9. Have another activity ready

Instead of telling your child to ‘get off their screen and find something else to do’, have an activity ready to go. Set up a puzzle, stack a set of blocks or read them a story. You could also try sharing with your child a plan such as ‘when you hop off we will read a book together’. If your child has something to look forward to, they’ll be more inclined to get off their screens when you ask.

Finding your own limits

The debate on ‘how much time is too much time?’ is understandably diverse. But that’s the beautiful thing about parenting — it can be so diverse. Just because your child’s friends get three hours of screen time every day doesn’t mean your child should, if you don’t want them to. You know the risks, you know the benefits, so make up your own mind and then stick to your guns.

Children will naturally try to test the limits by asking for more, but stay true to what you believe in. If less screen time is important to you, put measures in place to ensure that’s exactly what they get.

At HipKids, we put kids and safety first. We ensure all our products meet Australian Safety standards, and only buy from reputable manufacturers. Take a look at our range of kids toys, storage options and furniture today.

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