Monitoring Your Child’s Screen Time

by Samantha Arons M.Ed., LMH

One of the most common parental struggles these days is how to moderate our children’s electronics/screen use. Our parents had it easy — all they had to deal with was television. But, times have changed and it’s not just TV anymore.

Whether it be the DS, iPhone, Xbox, or YouTube, it can be difficult to disengage. Electronics really are the cheapest babysitter around. It is no wonder we find ourselves letting our children play for just ten minutes more (really twenty) so we can finish the task at hand without disruption.

Many of us also have trouble putting down the smart phone, kindle, or iBook. We can’t expect our children to do something that we ourselves are unable to do. So before you initiate any type of screen time limits or routines, ensure you are modeling the same behavior you want to see from your children. This sets the stage for creating rules that can work for everyone.

Here are a few ideas to think about as you begin to moderate screen use. Trust your judgment and instill boundaries around this issue that are reflective of the other values you try to teach your kids every day.

Create a Routine
Setting a time to get on the screen every day creates a routine. Your children will learn not to expect screen time to happen at any other time, avoiding the constant nagging to get on the computer. You could also have a list of expectations that need to be done before getting on the system. Teeth brushed, pajamas on, homework completed, and so forth. The screen time is a reward for getting tasks done and having some free time at the end of the day.

Prep Expectations/Rules
Review what the rules are for getting on the screen before it is turned on: How long will you be on? What do you need to do to earn it again for tomorrow? What happens of you don’t get off at the agreed time?

Praise Good Behavior
Share how impressed you are with their ability to get off the screen when asked. This helps them feel successful and will help encourage them to keep it up when they are asked to turn it off. Offer extra time after they have shown the ability to abide by limits.

Set a timer
Thirty minutes can fly by, especially when it’s the first free minute you have had since getting home from work. It is too easy to let the time go, and before you know it, your child has been in front of a screen for an hour uninterrupted. The timer can help you and your child keep track of time and keep use within moderation. It also lets the timer take the blame and not you: “The timer just went off” versus “I need you to get off now.”

Play Together
Whether it’s playing a game or watching funny YouTube videos, take some time to see what your child is doing on the screen. Not only is it a good way to ensure they are looking at appropriate content, but it can be a fun way of joining with your child.

Follow Through with Consequences
Reward good boundaries and transitions off electronics with extra time the following day. If your child abuses the screens and/or has a meltdown disengaging from the electronics, don’t make them available for the following day. The previous day’s behavior regarding the use of electronics should have a direct consequence the following day.

The overall goal is trying to instill some level of moderation of use when it comes to electronics and the ability to disengage without too much difficulty. The earlier you put these strategies in place, the more successful your child will be at moderating his/her own use and ability to disengage with electronics when asked.

The above article expresses the opinions of the author and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of other members of the Women’s Therapy Referral Service.