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How Do I Reduce My Child’s Screen Time?

March 1, 2016/by Jane Romeo

This post is part of our “Because Kids Don’t Come With Instructions” series edited by Ellen Taner. The series is in support of FamilyKind’s Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) program.

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It’s a question many parents are asking. As a mother of an 11-year old girl, I know this issue very well. There’s a constant frustration of trying to get her to do something other than jump from her phone to a tablet to the computer. My daughter could spend her whole day (especially cold winter days stuck inside) texting, going on group chats, face-timing her friends, or watching the latest videos on You Tube, not to mention, streaming shows on Netflix.

New studies have indicated that kids today risk the potential of losing the ability to read nonverbal cues and it is the direct cause of too much face to screen time vs. face-to-face interactions. (WebMD)

As a parent, it’s easy to feel guilty about the number of hours your kids spend on their electronics. After a while, the frustration turns into annoyance or even anger because they are utterly hypnotized with the screen even after the “one more minute” warning has been issued multiple times.

To address this issue, start by noticing your own screen habits because you are your child’s most influential role model. You can’t tell your child to get off their phones if you’re checking your emails, texting and streaming Netflix endlessly yourself. “Parents who have limited TV habits tend to raise kids who will have limited TV habits.” (Paul Ballas – Green Tree School Clinic in PA)

You’re more likely to get your kids to be compliant if you come up with screen rules together as a family. The family can come up with a pact or contract that outlines the specific rules. Some suggestions are, no texting during meals, no TV during meals, no screen time until homework and chores are done. Also, the TV gets turned off at a certain time every night and importantly no computer or TVs in the bedroom. You can also add to the contract what rewards and limits will be set if the rules are not followed. Rewards can be as simple as alone time with a parent doing a special activity, or a sleep over with a friend.

A parent once suggested to me that doing this contract, as a group of families (families that both you and your child are friendly with) would make the whole process easier. Your kids will know that they are not alone and it could be helpful for all the parents to “check in” and learn from each other. Obviously, you will adapt it to what fits best for your family, but knowing you’re not alone in this undertaking, might be quite reassuring. Your kids will also want to “keep up” with their friends and have more of an incentive to want to do well.

It’s important for children and adolescents to learn to delay gratification by emphasizing the importance of completing their homework or chores first. It will help to reduce the impulse to be on the screen if your child knows that privileges and rewards will happen after the hard work is completed. Also, when your child is planning a get together with a friend, try coming up with some non-screen activities that they can do with their friends.

In the beginning it’s important to let your teen know you’re paying attention to the number of hours they’re on a screen. Gentle reminders work well, “Hey, I think you’ve been on your phone for a long time now and it’s getting close to the limit we set.” Pay attention to the contract and the rules that were set. You might have to investigate to see if there was non-compliance, particularly when there is no parent around. If needed, change passwords that require the parent to sign on to the device or give more time-consuming chores. You can have a family meeting to discuss additional rewards and also address the challenges.

On another note, kids were born into this world of technology, and not all time on a screen is wasteful. It may pay to ask your children what they can do on their devices that are productive, such as reading books, or watching more educational programming. You might even ask your child’s teachers for some suggestions if there’s a particular subject they enjoy. There are also many online activities for individuals or the entire family that involve movement such as fun dance cardio, exercise videos and even the WII sports games. Let’s not forget about just listening to music, by themselves, or with their friends.

It’s up to us as parents to remind our kids that there’s a world out there that is unplugged. Encourage your teen to socialize more by finding activities that engage them socially like clubs at school and volunteer activities. Keeping your child occupied and active will help to build their self-esteem and acquire new skills.

As parents, we must teach our children by example, limit your own screen time. Plan alternative activities both for the family and for the teen with and without friends, and be creative in ways to have fun together.

Jane Romeo is a Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) educator. Learn more.

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