5 ways to reduce screen time in your family

It is universally accepted that children spend too much time interacting with a screen. iPod’s, Smart Phones,  mega flat screens, and computers have grabbed the collective attention of our children – and they are not letting them out of sight.

We feared that the ‘machines would take over’ but did we ever  think they would start with our children? Experts from a wide range of child-related fields all agree that extensive screen time from a young age is having a negative affect on our children’s growth and development and yet they are not sure of the extent of the full impact as they are essentially dealing with the first generation to have this level of exposure.

There are countless articles on the internet discussing ‘safe’ levels of screen-time, why screen time is bad for your child, age appropriate screen-time times and almost as many that argue that some screen time is good, can help brain development and be educational. There are precious few that put the case forward for unlimited screen-time – for children or adults.

The decision to sit your pre-schooler down in-front of the television or flick them an iPhone is usually borne of desperation. Your parenting reserves are at an all time low and you need some peace and quite so you can cobble a meal together. Moments of desperation do not allow you the luxury of considering what the future implications of your actions might be. The solution needs to be a pain relief tablet – fast acting, effective and targeted. The current crop of smart screen devices offer all that and more.

But once your children are glued to a screen, how can you get their attention back? Repeating “put down the iPad” until you sound like a stuck car alarm usually has little-to-absolutely-no effect on the average child. Most children can hack the password on you smart phone by the time they are 4 years old and are adept at downloading games, music and browsing YouTube by 5. The older your children are, the more difficult implementing any change will be – like most parenting equations, you need to be an expert in pure maths to understand the calculations however a 7yr old does not make it 7 times harder, a 7yr old is about 49 times harder than a 1yr old.

Here are 5 ways to change the screen culture of your family:

  1. Recognise the extent of the problem. For every time you yell ‘put down the iPad‘, you need to turn off your own device. Children rarely take much notice of what you say – but they sure take notice of what you are doing, (most parents are in fact, unaware of how similar they are to a bug under a microscope). You need to set the example – take your attention away from your device and give that attention to your children – it’s a very strong message.
  2. Remove screens from living areas. Having a very large screen as the centre-piece of your living space makes it very hard to ignore. If you have a smaller room that can double as the television room, create a ‘media room’. Or hide the screen by hanging a beautiful cloth over it when it is not on. Remove anything that looks like a game from all phones and iPads and lock any access to downloading app’s. The less interesting the device is, the less they will want it. If you need an emergency distraction – keep it educational, there are some great app’s for learning a new language or how to cook – keep it useful!
  3. Set aside specific times for watching television, playing Minecraft or generally playing around on the internet. Let your children choose which on-line activity they want during that time but be firm about the end time. There are devices available that will turn off the wifi at a set time.
  4. Keep everyone busy with other activities. By creating other things for them to do, such as outside time, craft, games – anything that involves interacting with each other  and with you will help to divert their attention. If the squabbling seems like it’s too much, remember that sibling disharmony is an essential learning environment and while you don’t need to actively encourage it, it does present an opportunity to show children how to resolve conflict in a way that keeps everyone happy. Filling the time they usually spend on the screen doing other things is an essential part of changing your screen culture.
  5. Start early. The sooner you set the rules for your family screen culture, the more normal it becomes for your children. If you are still in the early toddler stage, start now – in 7 years time you will thank yourself!
  6. Bonus Tip: Be mindful of what is being watched on television. Make a list of classic children’s films and shows – many of these are referenced time and time again in more recent films. The original version of Fantasia contains the ideas for at least 10 films. Cooking shows will see an increased interest in the kitchen (children who cook are invaluable) and gardening shows help get them outside.

Screens are unavoidable however the remote control is actually YOU. Set firm boundaries from an early age you will grow healthy, social children who are part of the world we live in and not removed observers. Now – turn off THIS screen and instigate a game of SNAP!



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