Tips to Cut Back Without a Fight

When you were a child, did you sleep on the couch with your siblings and fight over which show to watch on family TV? Today, your kids have far fewer restrictions when it comes to screen control. They can watch many at once and carry them with them wherever they go.

As amazing as technology is, your child will benefit from spending less time with it. In addition to homework, school-age children should spend no more than an hour or two a day in front of a screen, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“There are many potentially harmful effects of screen time on children, from newborns to late teens and even young adults,” says Craig Anderson, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology at Iowa State University.

When kids watch a lot of action-packed shows that switch scenes quickly, Anderson says, they may have trouble concentrating in class.

Children who spend too much time in front of a screen may have other problems, such as not getting enough sleep or gaining too much weight, says David Hill, MD, chairman of the Communications and Media Council of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In addition, he says, children who watch TV and play video games for hours every day may miss out on personal learning opportunities, outdoor playtime, and socializing with friends. “Our main question should be, ‘What’s crowding out this screen time?'” he says.

How to make a cut

With screens everywhere, it can seem even more difficult to cut down on a child’s time with them. But the limits are worth it. Try these tips to get them off those devices—at least for a little while.

1. Do not give children their own tablet or smartphone. “Communicate with your children. Do it instead of handing them an electronic device,” says Steven Gortmaker, Ph.D., professor of health sociology practice at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

2. Keep computers and TVs in the common areas of your home. When your kids use screens in the kitchen or living room, it’s easier for them to keep track of what they’re watching, the games they’re playing, and the websites they’re on.

3. Add tech-free time to your family’s schedule. “At any age, kids should be aware that there are certain times when the screens remain off, such as during meals and before bed,” says Hill. Even better, set aside time every week when the family does something together – the use of devices is prohibited.

4. Keep track of how often you use your own devices. If you put your face on your phone, your kids won’t see a good reason why they should get out—their screens. In addition, these devices affect the time you spend with your children. Researchers studying families in fast food restaurants noticed that parents were often more focused on their smartphones than on the kids at the table.

5. Make restrictions a regular part of screen usage. When the rules are clear and consistent, you can avoid the daily battles of telling your kids to turn off the TV, computer, or phone.

6. Be prepared to explain various screen time limits. After your kids have spent hours watching TV at a friend’s house, they may wonder why your rules are different. “It’s an opportunity to talk to your kids about your family’s values,” Anderson says.

7. Help your kids find other ways to have fun. “If a child has nothing to do but stare at a screen, then we shouldn’t be surprised when that’s exactly what he or she does,” says Hill. Keep other options handy—art supplies, books, frisbees, and bikes—ready for when your kids say they have nothing else to do.

8. Make technology work for you. Use programs and apps that can be set to turn off computers, tablets, and smartphones after a certain amount of time.

9. Adjust screen time limits as your child grows. “For middle schoolers and teenagers, parents may want to involve them more in the decision-making process,” says Hill. You could talk to them about how much screen time the whole family should get. Once you have a plan, stick to it.

10. Consider donating or recycling your old electronics. “Usually, there are a lot of devices in households, and they are abandoned and moved to other places,” Gortmaker says. “It’s good to take inventory and see if you can’t just limit the technology.

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