Any talk of screen time online requires the use of one million disclaimers, and this post is no exception.
Your family’s screen time is not my hill to die on and every family has their own individual circumstances and values around screen time.
For our family, limited screen time is a major priority and has been since before my children were born.
With summer coming on and pandemic restrictions easing, I know many families are interested in reducing the amount of screen time for kids that so much time at home as naturally brought about.
So if you feel great about your family’s screen time, feel free to ignore this post entirely.
If you’re hoping to decrease the screen time for kids at your house, I hope these tips will be helpful.
11 Tips for Decreasing Screen Time for Kids
- Decide WHY you want to decrease screen time. If you’re looking to decrease screen time, it’s helpful to go in with a clear picture of WHY you’re making a change. Do you want your kids playing outside more? Are you tired of constant negotiation about screen time? Do you want your children to have more time for imaginative games or reading? Does screen time make your children grumpy? Is there a lot of whining about screen time? Say aloud or write down the things that are making screen time problematic or the benefits of decreasing screen time.
- Set clear boundaries around screen time usage. It’s hard to enforce something that’s not clear. Decide exactly when, where, and what screens you’re okay with. Maybe that’s a show every morning while you shower. Maybe that’s a family movie on Saturday evenings. Maybe it’s 30 minutes of video games after homework is done. There’s no one right answer – you get to decide! Just make sure you actually decide what YOUR answer is.
- Communicate those boundaries. If your children come in Wednesday morning to turn on their normal breakfast show and you shut it down, you can guess that it’s not going to end in a pleasant way. Sit down in a non-confrontational way and explain that you’d like more time as a family and individuals to do fun, cool, exciting, imaginative things and that means that cutting out some screen time will make more space for that. Make sure everyone is clear on what the expectations are (and it might be helpful to list those somewhere so there isn’t confusion).
- Come up with screen time alternatives. Having a big list of things to do in the moments that normally might be screen time is really helpful. The more ideas you have, the better. Write them down and post them somewhere that everyone can see. If you have pre-readers, pictures or symbols can be very useful.
- Let technology be your friend. There are so many things that can make limiting screen time easier – set devices to turn off at certain times and not turn on again until when you want them to. Devices can also be set to turn off after a certain length of use. If your child is playing video games after school, set an Alexa alarm to go off when they need to be done. It’s super wearing as a parent to always be the one policing screen time, so when you can let the device be the one automatically turning off, that’s MUCH easier on everyone.
- Expect there to be whining. Change is hard and screen time is easy. I would 100% expect whining, crying, and complaining for the first few days. Knowing that it’s going to come makes it way easier to deal with it. Decide beforehand that you are absolutely capable of handling some whining and that it’s not going to make any difference in whether or not a screen gets turned on.
- Remember that giving in will mean MORE whining and negotiating in the future. Kids do the things that work. So if they whined for 5 minutes on the first day and you gave in and let them watch another show, you can pretty much guarantee that they now see whining as a very effective way to get what they wanted and they’ll keep whining and negotiating and complaining MORE because they know it works on you. I say to my children, “You’re welcome to whine as much as you’d like, but it’s not going to change anything.”
- Remind them of the boundaries before screen time starts. If my girls are sitting down to play 25 minutes of ABCMouse, I tell them as I turn on the device, “You can play for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, are you going to be able to turn it off without complaining? If you can, then you get to do it again tomorrow. If there is a lot of whining, we’ll take off the rest of the week and try again next week.” Reminding them that screen time is a privilege and not a right and what my expectations for them are helps considerably.
- Have a clear next activity after screen time. Before screen time starts, it’s helpful for my children to decide what they’re going to do when the show or game is over – otherwise that post-screen funk can be HARD to get out of. Whether it’s going to play in the backyard, reading a book, finishing some homework, having a snack, jumping on the trampoline or cleaning their room, it makes for a much better transition for everyone to know what comes next.
- Kids get better at entertaining themselves with practice. Like virtually every life skill, your child will get better at figuring out life without screens. It’s okay for them to be bored – the best imaginary games or reading time or musical performances come on the other side of that boredom. And the more they practice entertaining themselves, the better they’ll get at it – this is one the BEST gifts you can give your child. It will serve them well forever.
- Be a good screen time example. It’s hard to convince your kids to reduce their screen time if you spend all your time looking at your phone (I’m as guilty as anyone – it’s a battle for me every single day). Let your kids know that you’re trying to reduce YOUR screen time as well and set boundaries around it and let them remind you when you need to put your phone down too. Working on improving as a family is for sure better than just imposing new rules around screen time on your kids.
Any other tips for reducing screen time for kids? I’d love to hear!