Effectively Managing Children’s Screen Time in 10 Simple Steps

July 11, 2016 Published by

child-on-tabletIt is becoming increasingly common for children from a young age to have access to apps via tablets (like the iPad) or mobile phones, as well as to traditional TV. This screen time across devices is incredibly engaging for a child and can mean that the total screen time can quickly mount up: the tantrums when you try to take the screen away can mount up too!

There is no question that excessive screen time is damaging for young minds, so it really is critical that screen time is limited to ensure a child has a balanced play diet. That said, the evidence is also growing to show that the right sort of apps really do help children to learn and develop, so it’s not all bad news.

We also appreciate the pressures on parents and, if well managed, a small amount of screen time can go a long way to retaining a parent’s sanity, which can have all sorts of positive knock-on effects for a child.

The question, therefore, is how should a parent manage a pre-schooler’s screen time?

Here are our top ten tips for managing your child's screen time:

1. Aim for no more than one hour per day

Although at an older age it becomes almost impossible to add up the various bits of screen time a child might have, while they are pre-schoolers this is usually reasonably straightforward. A one hour maximum is more of a guide than a hard and fast rule but we would advise against straying over two hours a day for under fives, except on exceptional.

2. Aim for short ad-hoc play sessions:

Just like the advice for adults using computers, it is also important for not to stay sedentary for long periods.

If you are hoping children will learn from their screen time, remember that their concentration spans are short. It is therefore better to have one or more shorter screen time sessions than one long period a day.

Also, instead of picking one or two regular slots in your day for screen time try to make this ad-hoc. Regular behaviour is more habit forming - you may find your child is still picking that time of day to be on a screen when they are ten.

3. Ensure a Balanced Play Diet:

Just like a balanced food diet, it is so important that young children get variety in their play time. Children need plenty of active, imaginative, creative and social play as well as some solitary, educational, reading time and only a small amount of passive screen time.

If you’re worried about screen time, focus on making sure you have got the balance right and screen time is not pushing out another critical part of their play diet.

4. Don't be a Hypocrite:

If you intend to be strict about the time your child can spend on a screen, don’t spend the majority of your time staring at one yourself. Of course it’s impractical to never look at a screen yourself when you’re with your children, but avoid it dominating your time with them and that there are plenty of times with no screen in sight.

5. Set expectations & give them a sense of control:

If you want to police how long a child can use a screen then make sure you set expectations from the start and warn the child when their time is coming to an end. Just as an adult would be understandably cross if someone came along whilst they were in the middle of a game, email, programme and turned the screen off, your child will be too.

6. Make a 'timer' the bad guy:

If you’re having trouble getting a child to stop and feel you’re always under pressure to give longer, consider using a buzzer, egg timer, oven timer, stopwatch or similar to dictate the end point.

Young children usually find it harder to argue with a timer than their parent. Some parental control apps/features can also restrict the time for you.

7. Be consistent

If you’ve chosen to restrict screen time to a certain amount of time, be consistent.

Be prepared for major tantrums the first few times you put your foot down but, honestly, if you don’t give in, your child will soon learn it’s easier to conform. If you’re inconsistent and sometimes relent on the other hand, they could learn they are better to just scream a bit louder and maybe you’ll change your mind.

8. Plan 'after' screen-time

Another tip if you’re struggling to get children to finish their screen time is to plan what you will do next.

Pick something you know your child loves and make this a time to play together. It shouldn’t always be the responsibility of the parent to steer play, but if the transition is proving hard for a short while, this may be worth it.

9. Play together

While screen time for a child is often the time a parent races around doing the washing, cooking, cleaning etc, we do recommend setting aside some time to play together while they are using apps.

If you are hoping screen time will be educational, there is no doubt you sitting alongside will help them get the most out of it. It’s also a lovely thing to do together and may well give you ideas of activities your child will enjoy and learn from offline.

10. Choose the right screen-time

Last but by no means least, take time to choose the right screen time.

Look for educational content which develops a range of skills: cognitive skills, early maths skills, early reading and writing skills, fine motor skills, creativity, imagination, language even understand more about the world.



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This post was written by Fundamentally Children

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