Everybody knows that the more time your kid spends in front of a screen, the more likely they’ll become an unresponsive zombie. Whether it’s TV, tablets, phones or video games, the screen is a sure-fire brain rotter. In fact, screens are so dangerous that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended limiting to no more than two hours a day of any screen time.
What’s this all mean? Well, I guess I’m a terrible parent, and I’m guessing you may be one too. Screen time is a part of our daily routine. Sure, we all know screen time can be educational, but we’re not above handing our sons an iPad and saying “watch this” so we can prepare dinner or get a couple loads of laundry done without complete chaos breaking loose. Of course, we’d never put our children in front of a screen for the entirety of a day – that’s neglectful. But, I can’t say we consistently stick to an hour limit.
So, what’s a dad to do? Screens are more and more a part of our everyday lives, and I believe we can have a healthy relationship with our devices. Here are my thoughts and my approach to screen time.
It’s Less About Quantity as it is About Quality
There’s no surefire formula for how much time should be spent with a screen, and all screen time isn’t created equal. As we all know, there’s mindless viewing and there’s interactive time with our screens. It’s not just television, like when we were younger. As we all know, there are applications that are highly educational and really have a positive impact on children’s learning. So, let’s make sure we have a balance of strictly entertainment versus developmental screen time.
Actively Share Screen Time
I know, if you have to watch Spongebob or EvanTube for the 10,000th time, you’re going to jam sticks into your eyes and ears. But, you can revolutionize mindless screen time by being an active viewer with your child. I know, it’s normally taboo to talk while watching a movie, a show or video game. But, try working this into your routine when you can. Sit and watch and talk to your child about what you’re seeing. You may be surprised at the value you both get from it. First, you’re forming a bond during what would otherwise be vegetative viewing. What’s more, is that you can help your child develop cognitive skills – reasoning, empathy, etc. When we watched the Trolls movie, we talked about why Branch is sad, or why he doesn’t sing anymore. Kids are bright, and the conversation around the plot or around individual characters not only help them understand what’s going on, but understand emotions and behavior. You can do the same thing with videos and video games.
Help Make Good Choices
There’s a difference, of course, in how a 3-year-old uses screen time versus how a teenager uses screen time. While we may not have as much influence over our teen’s screen time (that’s a topic for a whole other article), there are always steps we can take to help our children make good choices while they are watching TV, tablets or on their phone/computer. It’s a bit easier when your children are younger, but by being involved while they’re young, asking what they’re watching and showing a level of interest, you can at least have some awareness and an opportunity to adjust as needed. Of course, there is some internet content that is dangerous for children, but in most cases your influence will be the difference between watching Smurfs for 30 minutes or playing with an educational app for 30 minutes.
Make Screen Time a Privilege, Not a Right
I’ve definitely been in the situation where I take away the tablet or turn off the TV, only to trigger an epic nuclear meltdown from my kids, the likes of which there’s no consoling. One thing that can help is to remove the expectation from the child that they deserve the tablet or video game time. Screen time should be a reward, not an entitlement. In my home, we provide points for chores that can be used for screen time. So, for example, each chore is worth 10 points, and if you get 30 points you can get 30 minutes of screen time. Some of the harder chores are worth more points. In this model, you get the added bonus or teaching work ethic, earning what you get, and a bit of basic math.