by Erica Garza
Screen time has been shown to increase restlessness and anxiety in children, impact sleep quality and quantity, and contribute to temper tantrums and an overall sense of disinterest in the tangible world around them. Whether your child is hooked on TV, their tablet, a video game or a phone, it’s important to develop and reinforce a regimen to help them learn when to switch off so they can switch back on their imagination.
When to Monitor Screen Time
In a study by Common Sense Media, data shows that kids eight and under spend around two hours a day with some sort of screen (TV, tablet, smartphone or video game), while children eight to 18 spend, on average, close to 45 hours per week on a device. These are hours that could be filled with reading, engaging in active play and discovering the world around them. If you’re wondering when to start implementing limits and controlling screen time, start with these action steps:
● For ages two to five, set limits on screen use to an hour a day and download tracking software to identify how that hour is spent. Parents are in charge of how much time should be spent over five years old, but it is recommended to still consider limits.
● Enforce “Blackout” times when no electronics are allowed (for anyone in the house, including parents) such as during meals, in the car, two or more hours bedtime, etc. Instead, plan conversations during those times.
● Remove computers, tablets, and smartphones from your child’s room at night, regardless of their age, to encourage adequate sleep.
Ways to Talk About It
Instead of deeming all screen use as “bad,” which might encourage your child to use a device in secret, acknowledge the many benefits of technology, steer children in the direction of media that reflects your values and empower them to be responsible with their consumption. The following tips might help them prioritize their time and energy away from the screen:
● Monitor activity to gain insight into your child’s interests, which can help open conversations about values.
● Demonstrate healthy screen use yourself, so you can show your children how it can be done.
● Consider creating a contract with your child committing to a screen time limit, which can be enforced with milestones and rewards, instilling a sense of pride in them.
Best Apps to Limit Screen Time
The following apps can help parents monitor screen time easily and efficiently and help children learn the power of powering down their device.
1. Moment Family: Moment helps you manage your family’s screen time from your own phone and set up time for your entire family to be screen-free using family dinnertime.
2. Bark: Bark proactively monitors text messages, YouTube, emails, and 24 different social networks for potential safety concerns with a hands-off, yet comprehensive approach.
3. unGlue: unGlue empowers your child by allowing them to decide how they want to spend their allotted screen time (parents are timekeepers). They can also bank unused time and complete special tasks (chores) to earn more time.
4. ScreenLimit: ScreenLimit allows parents to manage children’s devices from an easy-to-use dashboard on their smartphone and uses a unique countdown timer. Parents can also set challenges and rewards.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles and a mother of one. She holds a master's degree in Writing from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.