Melissa Arca MD, FAAP
The upcoming week, April 29th to May 5th, is National Screen Free week. We can encourage parents through our practices and through the media to use this week as an opportunity to make a media use plan, set guidelines, rules and expectations as to how their family will use media and screens for the rest of the year.
We’re living in a media world. No doubt about that. In fact, media follows us wherever we go these days. And our kids are honestly the most savvy among us. They get the hang of navigating iPhones and the various apps faster than you can figure out what your password is.
Media is here to stay and for the most part, it’s a great thing and has led to greater efficiency, communication, and sharing of valuable information.
But we knew there would be a down side. Our children are as fascinated and addicted as ever. We absolutely must moderate their media consumption and make sure the good outweighs the bad.
This is something my husband and I struggle with on a daily basis. We certainly don’t want them magnetically connected to some form of electronics for a good part of the day. So we have rules. Not always easy to enforce, but important and well worth the effort.
I have found this to be the best and least confrontational way to set time limits on my kids’ media time. Whenever they sit down with one of their favorite TV episodes or need to hop on Dad’s iPad for a quick Minecraft game, I set a timer. I tell them ahead of time how long the timer is being set for (usually 20-30 minutes) and when it goes off, we move on to another activity.
Aim for no more than 2 hours total screen time per day. When you think about it, that’s actually a lot during a busy week of school, homework, and extracurricular activities. To help getting them to bed on time…turn off all media 1 hour before bedtime. Studies have shown this will help everyone get to sleep (and stay asleep) faster.
Know what games and shows your children are playing/watching. Be sure they are age-appropriate and not filled with violent acts. Check Common Sense Media whenever you’re in doubt as you can find just about any movie, show, game, app, or book to determine age-appropriateness.
Play with them too. What about a game of bowling on the xBox or watching their favorite show with them? Being able to take part in something they enjoy will be a great time of connecting, instead of feeling disconnected.
When everyone starts complaining that they’re bored, and why can’t we play our favorite video game?…head outside. It’s the best cure I know for whining, grumpiness, and complaints of boredom.
Be a good role model
Want your kids to spend most of their day screen-free? Well, I hate to break it to you, but then you must too! I am so guilty of constantly checking my phone for new emails, almost to the point of obsession that it gets to be ridiculous.
Put down that mobile media. Turn off the TV. And practice what you preach.
As a bonus, do your best to spend the weekends off social media. When I started doing this…wow…it was amazing how much more quality time I had with my family and more time to get to some much needed household chores.
Have screen-free zones
No TV’s or other electronics in the bedrooms. No screens (including, or especially, phones) at the dinner table. I am so adamant about these screen-free zones that just the other day I scolded my husband for bringing his iPad into our son’s room while we did some bedtime reading.
I do not budge on this rule.
Rules are good but it’s also good to have some leeway. So, while I’m pretty strict about our screen-free zones, I’m pretty lax about the amount of screen time our kids (and us) get on the weekends. We love Friday night movie night and waking up Saturday morning watching cartoons, drinking coffee, and reading the paper.
Rules are great…but sometimes, they really are meant to be broken.