Most adults think of the holidays as a time for family gatherings filled with food, fun and good conversations.
However, children tend to think of the holidays in terms of freedom. Freedom from the structure of bedtimes, practices, school, and homework. Freedom to do what they want to do when they want to do it.
Problem is, this freedom often translates to dramatic increases in the amount screen time children and teens engage in. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time for children. Excessive exposure to TV, tablets, smartphones, computers, and video gaming has been associated with a number of mental, physical and social issues for children.
As the holiday season approaches, parents can proactively work to combat the “screen time creep” and help children focus on what the holidays are intended to be about—spending quality time with family and friends. While banning all screens from the house is probably not needed or feasible, parents can set limits.
Tips on Setting Screen Time Limits
To set limits, parents can consider doing some (or all) of the following:
1. Set a “screens off” time each day.
During “Screens Off” time, all devices are put on the kitchen counter where they are plugged in to recharge and are not available until the next day. In order for this strategy to work, it must apply to ALL screens (including Mom’s and Dad’s)!
2. Don’t allow screen time during mealtimes and family gatherings.
Turn the TV off, put phones on the counter, and work to engage in healthy conversation.
3. Set limits on how much screen time your child can have during the day.
Checkers or marbles work well for helping children keep track of screen time. If your child has four checkers and each can be “cashed in” for fifteen minutes of screen time, this allows the child to choose when they use their time while parents still control how much time they have.
4. Use screens in common areas of the house.
Placing screens in open areas of the home where you will pass through frequently provides opportunity check on kids and the websites, video games or TV shows they are accessing.
5. Make sure adolescents know you have the right to check their history and texts at any time.
Periodically checking your teen’s browsing history and text messages keeps you appraised of the types of conversations they are having and information they are obtaining. Additionally, knowing Mom or Dad can check anytime will help your teen engage their prefrontal cortex and proactively think through the consequences of their choices.
6. Be aware of what your child is watching and make sure it is appropriate given their developmental stage.
Every TV show, video, and game is teaching your child something. Initiate conversations with your child to help him or her think about what is happening and critically evaluate their beliefs around it.
7. Consider taking a digital “sabbatical.”
Find an hour, a day, a week, or even longer when your entire family switches off all digital “toys” and does something together as a family. This could be as simple as taking a walk on a favorite trail or through the neighborhood to see Christmas lights. Baking and decorating a batch of cookies or cupcakes together. Playing a family board game, crafting or having a living room dance party!
By proactively making a plan to manage screen time, parents can fend off the “screen-time creep” and create opportunities to build meaningful family holiday memories together.