How to Make Screen Time Rules That Work for Your Family

Not so long ago, pediatricians recommended limiting the time that children spend on phones and tablets to one or two hours a day, and babies are not given it at all. That has changed and parents now need to make sure their kids have a healthy relationship with their devices . Where to begin? Here are several ways to approach the problem.

Remember, screen time isn’t everything.

When children are young, it is tempting to assume that whenever they look at their phone, tablet, or TV, they are wasting their time. But not all screen time is the same : kids may drool and watch a dumb cartoon, or they may play a game that requires creativity or problem-solving. As they get a little older, they may use “screen time” as a way to interact with their friends or explore real life activities, such as crafts they want to build or decisions about what to buy with their allowance.

If you want to set limits, pay attention to what your child actually does when they have screen time. I can see a huge difference between the way my 7 year old is watching a video and building something in Minecraft . (I feel really controversial when he watches videos about Minecraft – he is passively consuming media, but he also learns the skills he uses to create.)

Rather than setting a timeline, Devorah Heitner , author of Screenwise: Helping Children Thrive in Their Digital World , suggests encouraging children to spend their time in more creative pursuits, such as filming videos rather than watching them, or learning to encode their own video. games when they are old enough.

You may still feel like you need to set limits, but they don’t have to be limits on screen time. Instead, you can use a tool like Circle to block access to specific websites at specific times . And you could follow the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics to avoid eating and sleeping .

Make sure your phone isn’t your only entertainment

We know that children need time to play and interact with real people. But, like us, they can gravitate towards electronics because they are more convenient to use. “Fancy clothes, legos and musical instruments are as accessible as screens?” Heitner suggests asking yourself as you look around where your child is.

If you’re trying to eat healthy foods, we’ve already explained how you can manipulate your environment to make healthy foods more accessible and unhealthy foods to be hidden from view and forgotten. Here’s the same idea. Even if you set strict rules, kids can whine about when they can watch YouTube next. But if their favorite toys are easy to get hold of, they can forget about phones and tablets, at least for the time being.

This can mean an awkward compromise for you as a parent: watching videos can silence kids, and it’s definitely less messy than a Lego explosion.

See How You Use Your Media

It’s hard to get kids to look up from their phones if you don’t. This is definitely my fault, especially if I have a deadline. Heithner mentions that she sometimes has to meet people in other time zones, so she can’t always put her phone away in the evenings. But she makes sure to put her phone down at certain times of the day, which is part of her family’s routine.

“A great parenting tactic is to be honest with the kids when we’re busy,” she says. “But I also think that we shouldn’t have a default, that we are always connected and never disconnected.”

Decide which rules make sense

When the AAP announced its 2016 guidelines for children’s device use, they also launched a media planning tool to help you list the rules that work for your family. As you progress, you can mark the rules for each of your children and add your own as you go.

I was hoping that the result would be a short list of family rules that I could hang on my refrigerator, but the tool came out with a long printout. However, it was helpful to go through all the rules and think about which ones I really want to follow and which ones I don’t.

According to Heithner (and I agree!), The biggest impact on the AAP guidelines has been that parents no longer need to pretend that they set or should set strict limits on screen time for their children. And we don’t need to look down on families who devote more screen time to their children than we do. “Other parents are harder to talk to because we’re so busy judging them,” she notes.

Without guilt under the old rules, it may be easier to talk more openly with other parents about what they do when their child throws a tantrum about throwing the screen before bed. Or how they decided if their high school student was ready for his own phone. She notes that preschool teachers and special needs therapists (such as speech therapists) are excellent sources of information on early childhood education. If you feel comfortable discussing tablet use with teachers, you can get great suggestions for apps suitable for your child, or even offline activities that can help your child be more varied while playing.


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