By Caroline Spearman, Psy.D.
In today’s world, it is inevitable that children are introduced to screens at a very young age. While plenty of research shows that too much screen time can significantly impact a child’s development, there are ways to appropriately structure screen time.
Boundaries are critical! Define your boundaries with your child. It may be helpful to schedule screen time directly into a calendar as part of your routine. For example, allotting 30 minutes of screen time after dinner on weekdays and 30 minutes in the morning and one hour in the evening on weekends will provide the structure your child needs to get used to and accept the parameters. It may be helpful to create a technology contract to help set more specific limits (see examples below).
Create tech-free zones. Require that all children disconnect from technology one hour before bedtime and recharge devices outside of their bedroom. If they use their phone as an alarm, use an alarm clock instead. Preserve mealtime as an opportunity to engage with each other without screens. These actions will encourage family time, healthier eating habits, and improved sleep.
Consider a time management tool that will restrict access to certain websites or applications during homework. Some examples include RescueTime, Leechblock (Firefox), Stay Focused (Chrome) Self Control (Mac), Anti-Social (Windows and Mac), Moment (iPhone) Freedom (iPhone and computers). The program Strict Workflow blocks time-wasting websites for 25-minute periods and allows access for 5-minute periods.
Once the boundaries are set, enforce them and hold your child accountable. Utilize a timer to help monitor the length of screen time. Often, providing a 5-minute warning will help in transitioning away from the screen. Teach your child that screen time is a privilege that is earned and not following the parameters can result in losing screen time.
Set a good example for your child by minimizing your screen time in front of them. If you are absorbed by your phone, television, or tablet, then they will learn this behavior and engage in it as well. Being mindful of how much screen time you engage in around your children will ultimately make your job much easier.
Sample technology contracts: