10 Ways to Limit Screen Time & Enjoy Your Family

10 Ways to Limit Screen Time & Enjoy Your Family

Christine Lu
Apr 23, 2015

Access to technology can be engaging and empowering, especially for children. However, the benefits of screen time depend largely on how it's used and how much of it is used. Like with most things, balance is key! As a parent, I want to my kids to have access to the good aspects of technology, but I'm also concerned with the consequences of too much or the wrong kind of screen time. I want to foster healthy habits in regards to screen time and over time I have found that creating this positive environment requires awareness and planning. Here are some strategies to help manage this issue if you have similar concerns:

  1. Educate Yourself. There is so much technology out there that it is important to understand both the variety and standards of what is beneficial and what is not. Staying up-to-date on apps, TV shows, websites, computer games and having a basic knowledge of the things that your children consume will help the conversations you have with your kids about how to be selective when it comes to their screen time.
  2. Be a Good Example. You can't expect your kids to have a healthy balance between screen time and active time if you don't have that balance yourself. Let your kids see you prioritizing other things - like exercising, reading, spending time with friends - without the presence of a phone or a laptop nearby and this will have a big impact. When you enforce no-phone rules, make sure those apply to you as well; you can teach your kids to be present and engaged, by doing that yourself.
  3. Have Conversations. Include your kids in the discussions regarding the rules about screen time. They will more likely respect the rules if they understand the reason behind them, and maybe they can even help come up with some of the rules, if they are old enough. This would also be a good time to talk about the pros and cons of screen time, what they consider to be too much screen time, and the effect of advertisements in media.
  4. Make a Schedule. Make a schedule of favorite TV shows or designated movie nights. This will prioritize the entertainment that your family really values, instead of mindlessly watching hours of TV without intent. Writing down how many hours of screen time - whether it be TV shows or computer games - will also help keep everyone accountable. Seeing the number of hours logged in front of a screen as opposed to spending time outdoors, for example, may be a good wake up call.
  5. Delegate Responsibilities. Make sure everyone in the house is clear about what is expected of them regarding chores. Setting the table, washing the dishes, walking the dog, taking out the garbage, putting their toys away or folding the laundry are all things that help take care of the home, and these are things that should take priority over any sort of screen time. This sense of responsibility and ownership is also a healthy way to fill up extra time the kids may have.
  6. Let them get Bored. Speaking of extra time, it is okay for kids to get bored; boredom really can breed creativity! Part of the reason why we hand kids the iPad or sit them in front of the TV in order to keep them occupied. However, kids are capable of coming up with all sorts of games and activities when they are not distracted by the screen. While having a list of activities on hand is a great way of helping your kids engage with the world around them (more on that later), having a no-technology weekend once a month and letting the kids brainstorm on their own what they want to do with their time could be empowering for them.
  7. Unplug their Room. Keep TVs out of the bedroom — their bedroom, but also yours. Keep bedrooms a TV-free zone so that access to the television is limited. Since laptops and iPads can take the place of TVs these days, designate a time when no more screens are allowed. Studies have shown that looking at screens right before bed really impede on the quality of sleep, so it's crucial to let there be time to wind down without the screen.
  8. Respect them. Respect the screen time they do have and when they allege they need more screen time, really listen to them. Sticking to the rules is important, but it is more important to stay consistent to the rationale behind why you are limiting screen time, rather than keeping a strict eye on the minute they need to be off. Especially for teens, since screen time involves socializing with their friends, try to understand their need for this and continue to have conversations about what it means to have a good balance. Accordingly, try not to make screen time a reward, since you don't want them valuing this as their ultimate gratification.
  9. Have Meals Without Screens. This is hard to do consistently, but it has been shown time and time again that having meals together as a family is invaluable, especially for the conversations and connections that mealtimes allow family members to have with one another. Eating dinner in front of the TV might be the easy default after a long day, but the benefits of having a screen-free meal with conversation far outweigh the occasional difficulties. Try this idea: have everyone go around the table to share the best thing that happened, the worst thing that happened, and something funny that happened that day.
  10. Plan Activities. Foster a culture of an active family life by finding activities that everyone can do together. Have each person write down things that they like to on pieces of paper and put them in an idea jar that you can reach into each time you are looking for a family activity. If you have a hobby, sport or activity that you enjoy doing, involve your children in it, even when they are young, so that it can be something that everyone can grow to enjoy doing all together.

To help you get started (you can try some of these this weekend!), here are some ideas of things you can do with your kids instead of defaulting to screen time:

  • Prepare a meal or bake something together
  • Go on a short walk
  • Camp out in the backyard
  • Sort and organize clothes, books and toys with your kids that they can donate
  • Have a game night or get a puzzle to work on all together
  • Go on a field trip to a museum or a historical place
  • Plant a garden (you can start small!)
  • Put on a play or a family talent show
  • Go on a bug hunt
  • Have a dance party in your living room
  • Do a service project in your community
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