There’s no ignoring it -- these days, most kids are picking up technology before they can even talk. Of course, screen time has some huge pros, but it also has some major cons, and we want our kids to become healthy and happy digital citizens, not tech-addicted screen junkies.
Official guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than one hour per day of screen time for children between the ages of 2 and 5. So, when it comes to introducing your kids to technology and successfully limiting their screen time, here are a few digital dos and don’ts:
As soon as your kids see you with a screen, no matter how young they are, you’ve officially introduced them to technology. Watching how you interact with your phone or computer is one of the first clues they will have as to how they should think about and use their own devices. Being a good digital role model is key to getting it right from the start.
Australian parenting website Raising Children suggests setting aside phone-free time each day to be completely in the moment with your child. They also recommend not checking your phone immediately when you receive a notification and avoiding using it as your only source of entertainment when around them.
When the kids are screaming and all you want to do is have a little peace and quiet, it’s easy to hand over a screen to distract them. We get it. No judgement. However, while giving them an iPad on a long car ride is one thing, using technology to make them feel better when upset is another. It can teach them unhealthy coping strategies and may even lead to screen addiction.
Dr. Kirsty Goodwin, author of Screaming or Screening: Children’s Self-Regulation in an Age of Screens says it’s important for parents to remember that children must experience emotions first-hand to learn how to respond in socially appropriate ways. Read our post on How to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children for some great tips on teaching kids to manage their feelings.
Boundaries are essential to limiting your child’s screen time. Ensure the rules are simple and consistent, so they can apply to any age. Amy Morin, psychotherapist and child behavior expert, suggests creating time limits (especially for certain apps or sites), as well as technology-free zones (such as bedrooms) and technology-free times of day (such as dinner).
Parental controls are another option. These allow you to block particular websites and apps and set time limits on their use, automatically logging your child out when their time has expired.
As always when introducing rules to kids of any age, explaining the ‘why’ behind them is the best way to get your child to understand.
"If your kids understand that you're limiting your family's screen time because too much time spent on screens has downsides, they're much more likely to follow the rules you set,” Morin says. “If your kids just think you're ‘being mean,’ they might be more likely to resist or break the rules you are trying to enforce.”
The notion that all tech is bad tech, especially for toddlers, is an idea that’s being constantly challenged. A study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop found that children aged 4 to 7 improved 27% on a vocabulary test after using an educational app.
It’s all about balance and what works for you and your family. As your child grows and you explore the world of technology together, trust yourself to know what’s right at the time and feel free to politely ignore anyone who dares to judge you.
These digital dos and don’ts are a great place to start, but for a more personalized approach check out this Family Media Plan, which allows you to set goals and rules that are in line with your values.
Miranda Luby is a freelance lifestyle journalist and columnist with bylines for the BBC, Kidspot, Natural Health magazine and Nourish magazine. You can find her at mirandaluby.com.