4 Effective Ways To Limit Your Kids Screen Time

Here are four great ways to get your kids away from the screen without being a monster! And some suggestions on how to make the time they do spend on screens more enriching.
Posted on 21 January 2020 by Miranda.

Why is too much screen time bad?

Every day, I look at a screen. Whether it’s my laptop, my computer at work, my phone, or watching Netflix I almost never go through the day without looking at a screen. Screens have become part of our daily lives. I think most of us already know that staring at a screen for prolonged periods of time isn’t the healthiest activity in the world as it has links to anxiety, depression, and addictive symptoms. Normally when I consider healthy screen habits I’m thinking about how to limit my time spent staring at a screen, but after a recent talk at the Medicine Hat Public Library by Leah Hirst from Alberta Health Services (AHS) I’ve realized it’s not simply about limiting screen time, but also about how you’re using your time when you’re looking at a screen. Of course, this is important for everyone, but even more important for children. 

Children and teenagers’ brains are developing until the age of 25, so learning healthy screen habits at a young age is important for healthy brain development. Research has linked screen use among 3-5-year-olds to lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter, which is related to language and literacy (Hutton et al., 2020). When screens are used improperly and extensively it can damage mental health, relationships and connections. Certain types of screen use, such as video games, can be addictive in similar ways to drugs and alcohol, but a healthy brain can prevent addictive mental health concerns. If you’re worried about how much time your child is spending on a screen you’re not alone, 46 per cent of Canadian parents are concerned about their child’s screen time (Global News).



One study published by the University of Michigan and Illinois State University (McDaniel, 2018) found that parents checking their phones or being engaged with a screen was interrupting everyday interactions with their children. This resulted in the child having behavioural problems as the child would often act up to get the attention of the adults around them. Ensuring that you’re present and engaged when your child is near is one step towards modeling healthy screen habits for your child. 

However, screens are an undeniable part of kids’ lives, just as we are unable to avoid using them on a daily basis, neither can children. Leah Hirst spoke about some strategies to manage screen time for children so that it’s less damaging to mental health and relationships. She recommends that parents decide what a healthy level of screen time is in relation to the 4 M’s: Manage, Meaningful, Model, and Monitor, as recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Society.


How to reduce screen time: The 4 M's

Screen time should be managed through plans, rules, and limits.


  • Make and regularly review or revise a Family Media Plan, including individualized time and content limits.
  • Consider asking your child or teen to give you their phone at a certain time at the end of the day so they aren’t interrupted with phone calls or text messages during family time.
  • Be present and engaged when screens are used and, whenever possible, watch together and talk about the content.
  • Discourage media multitasking, especially during homework.
  • Learn about parental controls and privacy settings
  • Obtain your child's or teen’s passwords and login information for devices and social media accounts, to help ensure safety online and to follow online profiles and activities if concerns arise.
  • Speak with children and teens about acceptable and unacceptable online behaviours.


Make sure that time spent on a screen is meaningful:  


  • Make sure daily routines come first: face-to-face interactions, sleep, and physical activity.
  • Encourage your child to watch programs that help teach, such as shows about nature, science, the arts, music or history.
  • Help children and teens to choose content that’s appropriate for their age and stage.
  • Be a part of your children’s media lives. For example, join in during video game play and ask about their experiences and encounters online.
  • MODEL healthy screen use, because your kids are watching you.
  • Review your own media habits: Plan time for hobbies, outdoor play and activities.
  • Never text or use headphones while driving, walking, jogging or biking.
  • Encourage daily “screen-free” times, especially for family meals and socializing.
  • Turn screens off when not in use, including background TV.
  • Avoid screens at least 1 hour before bedtime, and keep recreational screens out of bedrooms.


Model healthy screen use, because your kids are watching you.

  • Review your own media habits: Plan time for hobbies, outdoor play and activities.
  • Never text or use headphones while driving, walking, jogging or biking.
  • Encourage daily “screen-free” times, especially for family meals and socializing.
  • Turn screens off when not in use, including background TV.
  • Avoid screens at least 1 hour before bedtime, and keep recreational screens out of bedrooms.


And last, monitor your child’s screen time and identify if screen time is becoming a problem. Signs to watch for include:  


  • Your child complains about being bored or unhappy without access to technology.
  • Oppositional behaviour when you set limits on screen time.
  • Screen use is interfering with sleep, school or face-to-face interactions.
  • Screen time is interfering with offline play, physical activities or socializing with friends and family. 
  • Negative emotions after interacting online, playing video games or while texting.
  • Talk to your child’s doctor if these signs persist, or if they interfere with family life.


The takeaways

What I’ve gathered from these recommendations is that communication with your child is key to healthy screen time habits. Explaining why and when screens need to be put aside in favour of other activities such as playing outside, socializing face-to-face, or reading should be as big a priority as limiting screen time in general.  

Hirst’s talk at the library has made me more self-aware of my own screen time habits, but especially aware of the habits I’m modeling when I’m around children and teenagers. Screens are unavoidable in today’s world, but there are ways for us to ensure that screen time doesn’t take over both our or our children’s lives. 

If you want to know more about this topic Glow Kids by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras further investigates the effect that screen-tech is having on children. 


The series continues at MHPL...

This three-part series of programs will continue at the Medicine Hat Public Library with part two scheduled for Wednesday, February 5th at 7:00 pm. The Medicine Hat Police Service will be here to talk about Internet Safety, Leah from AHS will be back to go into detail about Creating a Family Media Plan, and Carla Thorogood, Behaviour Interventionist and Certified Counsellor with the Medicine Hat Public School Division will talk about Practical Strategies for Dealing with Behavioural Issues related to Excessive Screen Time Use. Add yourself to the Facebook event so you don't forget to come!




Citations


  1. Hutton JS, Dudley J, Horowitz-Kraus T, DeWitt T, Holland SK. Associations Between Screen-Based Media Use and Brain White Matter Integrity in Preschool-Aged Children. JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(1):e193869
  2. McDaniel, B.T., Radesky, J.S. Technoference: longitudinal associations between parent technology use, parenting stress, and child behavior problems. Pediatr Res 84, 210–218 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41390-018-0052-6
  3. Screen Time by the Numbers image: https://www.fix.com/blog/kids-and-screen-time/.

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