In today’s society, technology and the media are a big part of our lives, and for a good reason. Technology is an excellent source of entertainment, information, and--perhaps most importantly--connection to others. Technology helps us stay together, even when our current circumstances in the COVID-19 pandemic are keeping us socially distanced. But as wonderful as technology is, too much screen time isn’t good for children.
Research has shown that increased use of electronic devices could be detrimental to children’s health and wellbeing. Extended periods of screen time have been linked to sleep problems and eye strain. Video games, TV shows, and mobile devices also keep children sedentary instead of active, which increases the risk of obesity. According to some research, excessive electronic device use is correlated with poorer academic performance. Not to mention all of the benefits that more stimulating activities (sports, creative projects, or imaginative play) have on children’s cognitive, language, and social-emotional development that electronic activities do not.
For growing brains and bodies, it’s best to have a balance between technology and technology-free playtime. But with “gadgets and gizmos aplenty,” how do we keep our kids from wanting more?
Here are eight tips for creating healthy technology habits in your home.
1. Allocate a limited amount of time for screens.
Talk to your family about limiting electronic use and agree on a daily limit. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting screen time to one hour for children 2-5 years old. There isn’t a recommended threshold for children older than 5, but screen time should still be limited as much as possible. If your child needs more structure, you can even establish different limits on different devices, such as 30 minutes of TV per day plus 30 minutes of tablet time. Explain to your child why the limitation has been set; it’s to give them plenty of time to move their bodies and play by themselves and with others!
2. Establish “no screen zones” in your home.
Try to keep all devices in shared spaces, such as the living room. Keep devices, including TVs, gaming consoles, tablets, and computers, in these shared spaces. It’s also essential to establish “no screen zones” in your child’s bedroom and other areas of the home as you see fit, such as the dining room. This helps you enforce the limitations on your child’s screen time and also keeps your child from isolating themselves for long periods in their room. It also allows you to monitor their screen time so you can help keep them safe online.
3. Model good technology habits.
As with all behaviors, like eating and sleeping, you are your child’s primary example for good technology habits. A good balance can be challenging to achieve, as work-from-home directives may force you to be on your personal computer for eight hours of the day. However, when you aren’t working, try to avoid scrolling through your social media or bingeing Netflix shows, especially in front of your child. Instead, model good habits by putting your phone away in no screen zones and engaging with your child in device-free activities, like cooking or playing a board game.
4. Encourage creative activities and free play.
If possible, set aside time in your day to create activities for your child that involve imaginative play. The idea is to encourage your child to learn how to play by themselves by creating their own activities, such as building a castle out of blocks or playing “restaurant” or “school” with their stuffed animals. The best way to do this is to show them how to play and provide them with some mindful toys that enhance these activities. These toys don’t have to be expensive; for example, you might give your child a whiteboard and some dry erase markers if they like to play “school.” Studies have shown that free play has amazing benefits for development. Check out our blog post on “The Science of Children’s Play (Pt. 1)” to learn more about the importance of free play. That way, when you need solo work time, your child knows how to create their own independent fun, and you don’t need to use your devices as your babysitters.
5. Repurpose screen time by making it educational.
Try to choose TV shows, online games, or Youtube videos that are educational or have redeeming qualities. For example, some TV programs on PBS Kids teach verbal, language, math, or behavioral skills. There are also many free STEM-related games online. Our Snack Science Video Series (SSVS) uses science to teach children skills to prevent disease and create lifelong health and wellbeing. SSVS and similar online content help repurpose screen time because they provide access to learning activities that children can do once they finish watching the videos. Our Snack Science series includes movement activities like yoga, art projects, and recipe ideas that help children engage in tactile and kinesthetic learning, which is essential for their development. Click here to watch HealthStart's Snack Science Video Series.
6. Set aside family time.
In addition to having places in your home that are free from technology, you should also designate a time for your family to interact without the distractions of technology. Mealtime is a great time to put all devices away. Try to discourage your child from watching shows or movies while eating meals or playing on the iPad at the dinner table. This is important for several reasons. First, it helps your child become a more mindful eater and allows them to pay attention to their meal. Second, it creates time and space for family connection. If possible, try to set aside one meal a day as the designated “family meal” where everyone eats together and engages with one another. If busy schedules don’t allow for this, try for several days out of the week.
7. Don’t use technology to reward or punish your child.
Though there is some controversy on the subject, using technology as a reward or punishment only makes it more prominent in your home. Try to stick to your technology time limit every day. Be cautious in offering more time to encourage good behavior or take away devices to punish bad behavior. Instead, try to use positive verbal reinforcement as much as possible to help guide your child’s behavior. Not every day will be ideal, and that’s okay, too! It’s about creating healthy boundaries for your child, not making every single day perfect.
8. Get outside.
It’s always important to get kids outside and encourage them to move their bodies. Though the pandemic makes this more challenging and limits social activities like sports teams, swim lessons, and playground play-dates, there are still many activities that can be done outside. Family hikes, dog walks, and bike rides in isolated areas are excellent ways to be in nature and socialize without electronics. Encourage your child to engage in solo outdoor activities, too, like blowing bubbles, drawing with sidewalk chalk, or building fairy houses. Picnics and gardening are also great ways to get some sunshine. Just don’t forget your sunscreen!
Did you try any of these tips? Let us know in the comments below if they worked for you, and feel free to share your own tried and true methods for creating healthy screen time habits!
Lee, K. (n.d.). Cutting Down Screen Time Means Better Health and Grades for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.verywellfamily.com/cut-kids-screen-time-for-health-621154#citation-6
Mason, R. (2016, May 31). Screen Time and Kids: Tips to Cut Back Without a Fight. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/kids-screen-time#1
Media and Young Minds. (2016). Pediatrics, 138(5). doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-2591
Morin, A. (2020, January 8). 10 Tips for Limiting Your Child's Screen Time. Retrieved from https://www.verywellfamily.com/tips-for-limiting-electronics-and-screen-time-for-kids-1094870