Screen-time limit = lifetime skill

March 8, 2012

Between the iPad, the smartphone, the NintendoDS and the television, there are many screens competing for your children’s attention. If you’re like me, you’ve tried lots of tactics to limit screen time – setting a timer, ordering “not on weekdays” or (when you’re really fed up) an all-encompassing ban on electronic gadgets. It’s a struggle, especially as parents grapple with the marketing campaigns touting the “educational benefits” of television, computer games and apps. But honestly, we all know the best after school play for a child is running, jumping, splashing, digging, or any full body activity that tires out more of the body than the thumbs or index fingers.

So, stay strong, parents. Yes, even educational screen time needs to be limited. No, you don’t have to be the meanest parent ever to enforce those limits. Here are some ideas to help set limits on technology while getting the most benefit from the screen time you do allow:

  • Don’t use the TV or computer games as babysitters. Spend time with your child while he or she watches or plays so you make it a social affair. This will give you lots to talk about (and bond over) at the dinner table, and will indoctrinate your child to the idea that most entertainment is meant to be social.
  • If it isn’t the right time for technology, don’t get caught off guard. Be prepared to divert the “I want to play on the iPad!” energy. Have a stash of alternative, distracting, enriching play ideas at the ready – a new comic book, a magnifying glass, cool kitchen experiments, anything that will catch the child off guard and move her to a more productive place. Don’t provide a new toy every time your child wants to get on PBS.org, but have alternative activities at the ready.
  • Give your child an opportunity to experience technology from a creative viewpoint. A cheap digital camera (or the old one you wore out taking all those darling baby pictures that first year!) is a great opportunity to let little ones learn to create with technology, not just passively interact.
  • Keep the TV and computer in the family room or another room where they are easily monitored by adults. Do not allow either in the child’s bedroom.
  • It’s important for kids to see their parents be able to disengage from media, so make the dining table a tech-free zone – no TV, iPads, smartphones, iPods, etc. This means guests, too (warn them beforehand).
  • Above all, when it is time for tech, interact with your child. Model good sportsmanship, self-control and self-discipline. Show your child that you don’t always have to get to the next level right now or watch the next episode right now. Give them the emotional tools to use good judgment with media and technology in the future.

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