If you feel like your child is spending way too much time clutching an iPad or sitting in front of a laptop playing games, you are probably right. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average kid between the ages of 8 and 10 spends a whopping eight hours a day in front of some sort of electronic screen. Their older brothers and sisters may be on their smartphones and tablets as much as 11 hours per day. These figures mean that, in some cases, our kids are spending more time trying to master Flappy Bird and texting their friends than they are going to school or sleeping.
As parents, it’s important to find some type of happy balance between screen time and “unplugged” time. Rather than ban all electronic devices from the home — a decision that is probably a bit more extreme than necessary — parents should take other steps to make sure computers, tablets and phones are not taking over their children’s lives. The following three tips can help us do just that:
Develop a family use policy
As Parenting notes, you know and love your kiddos better than anyone. This means you are highly qualified to determine how much media time your kids should get on any given day. Rather than go by generic recommendations like “no more than 90 minutes of screen time a day for anyone, ever,” come up with a more personalized family plan that looks at each child individually. An older teen who needs to use the laptop for homework may get more screen-time privileges than your second grader who pretty much just uses his tablet for games.
Next, set limits on how often your kids can watch television, talk or text on their phones, or check out the latest YouTube videos on their tablets. Tell them there are certain times when electronics are strictly forbidden — this can range from dinner time and bedtime to church and school. To help this happen, consider removing electronic equipment from your kids’ bedrooms and request they leave their phones and tablets on the kitchen counter before heading up to their rooms at night.
Lastly, make sure your family use policy includes some rules about social media and how to be a responsible citizen online. To do this, find some companies that use social media in a very positive way; for example, LifeLock’s Twitter page is filled with educational resources and interesting posts about a variety of topics. Show your kids that being on social media can and should be a positive experience.
Incorporate technology into time outside
If it’s frustrating you to no end that your kids want to spend more time on the couch than playing outside, the National Wildlife Federation suggests finding creative ways to use technology to encourage them to get up and get moving. For example, if your child is interested in birds or other wildlife, download the BirdsEye app and then go on a walk to see and record the birds you find. You can also encourage your kids to record or take photos of whatever activities they are doing outside, from riding their bikes to documenting their latest sidewalk chalk masterpiece.
Make it easy for your kids to do other things
As Entrepreneur Kids Academy notes, give your kids easy access to other activities than their electronics. Have baskets of toys within easy reach, as well as shelves filled with books and arts and crafts supplies. Keeping all of the Legos and crayons neatly put away can make the home look more organized, but it can also cause your kids to “forget” that they even have these beloved items, so keep them out in the open and encourage them to build a tower or draw a picture rather than play a game on their tablet.