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How can I help my child manage screen time?

Today we need screens more than ever. Which means it’s becoming even more important to develop healthy boundaries with our devices.

As a parent, when you see your child glued to their phone or tablet, paying little attention to the outside world, it’s natural to worry. 

Here are some key things to understand and do to help your child keep a healthier relationship with their devices.

Step 1. Understand that not all screen time is equal

Start by working out why your family is using screens, what they’re getting out of them, and what the costs are. 

Remember - it’s more logical to think about what you do online, than how long you do it for. 

There are a number of key differences to think about:

1. Age 

Babies or toddlers should use screens less than older children, who might use screens for social reasons. Trust your instincts on this one - younger children need constant care and attention to grow - which a screen will never be able to substitute.

2. Type of content 

Staying in touch with friends, using screens to watch movies, taking classes online for remote learning - all of these things are fine. 

Doing any one of them all the time is less okay. If you have spotted that your child's patterns have changed, try asking them whether they’ve come across anything that troubles them.

3. Time of day 

It’s now a well-known fact that the white light from screens disrupts sleep patterns, so it’s wise to have a no-screen rule for an hour before bedtime.

Introducing regular shared activities, like Friday Movie Night or Tuesday Gaming can also help with boundary-setting.

4. The type of device 

A study by Common Sense Media broke screen usage down into 4 different types of interactions: 

  1. Passive: watching TV, reading or listening to music

  2. Interactive:: playing games and browsing the internet

  3. Communication: video-chatting and social media

  4. Content creation: using devices to make art or music

Knowing these helps us to think about how we use different devices. 

For instance, passive use might be better than scrolling through social media in the evenings before bedtime. 

Step 2: Be proactive about screen time

Research tells us that the more children are controlled and monitored, the less likely they are to know what to do when things go wrong. What's more, monitoring doesn’t guarantee that they will be protected from risk. 

Here are some ways that you can be proactive to help your child create a good relationship screen time.

1. Help them to establish their own boundaries

Get them to reflect on their screen time. When they’re feeling thoughtful and encouraged to talk, you may find they naturally want to bring in some boundaries - it needn’t become a confrontation.

2. Set limits when you need to

Almost all devices provide ways to set limits on screen time and you can also do this through some apps. TikTok recently introduced its ‘Family Safety Mode’, and Instagram and Facebook provide an overview into how much time has been spent on its platforms, both including a ‘daily reminder’ feature.

3. Encourage breaks

Find fun ways to de-stress offline, have ‘no-screen days’ when you are on holiday, put phones away at mealtimes and encourage them to use one device at a time. The emphasis here is to make sure that the breaks are fun and engaging - and not introduced as a punishment! 

Step 3: Empower them for the future

Screen time today takes up an increasingly large part of our lives, but as time goes on, we might find that technology becomes more integrated. 

Whether your child goes on to have a voice-activated home control system, or gets a job working in virtual reality, helping setup healthy relationships with screens and tech now will prepare them for whatever the future brings.