Screens are very much part of our lives these days for learning, playing, working and chilling.  Yet “using” screens or the amount of screen time we allow can be a hot topic for parents. For most parents these days the decision is not screens or no screens, but it is about setting reasonable screen time limits that work for their families.  We are all the experts in our own families so deciding on how much screen time our kids have when they have it, why they have it should be based around our own families, our family’s needs and the impact that screens do or don’t have on our kids. Kids do respond in different ways to screens and what our kids watch or play can have both a positive or negative impact on behaviour so it important to look at this when setting screen time rules. Here are my Let’s Ask Livvy top tips for setting screen time rules that work for your family.

  1. Know the impact of screens on your kids. Some kids seem calmer after a little screen time, some kids are more energetic.  The impact of screens is very child specific and can depend on a number of factors such as the amount of exposure, what they are watching or playing, the time of day etc. Effective family rules need to consider these factors.  If your child has screens before bed but then struggles to settle, your screen time rules should reflect this.
  2. As screens are part of modern parenting and a very personal choice, my advice to parents is not based around should they allow screen time or not, it is based on creating a sensible rule for your family that you can stick to, that works for your family, that feels right and that meets the needs of the whole family.  Try to set rules that fit with your core values as these are easier to implement and easier to stick to.  They also have the added benefit of being able to travel with you wherever you go which helps to deliver a consistent message.
  3. Consistency and having clear boundaries are major factors.  If your rule is “no screens at tea time” but sometimes you allow screens because the kids are tired, because you are tired because they have asked 700 times and you haven’t got the energy to say no again, kids get a confusing message and are likely to test the rule on other nights to see if there is room for negotiation.  The more your boundaries shift the more likely you are to have screen related issues.
  4. If stopping screens are causing meltdowns: firstly make sure that you are being realistic, we would all get moody if we were enjoying something and someone just turned it off with no warning. Be clear with what you are allowing and if your child has difficulties with stopping screen time have a clear start and end time.
  5. If you have kids of different ages different you may need rules. Age specific rules can work well in families as long as everyone knows the rules, the rules are clear and consistently applied.
  6. Different weekday to weekend rules or holiday rules can also work well for families and are sometimes more realistic in everyday life, but again the rules need to clearly explained, defined and pre-agreed to avoid shifting boundaries.
  7. Screen time can be highly motivating to kids and can be a very effective motivator for some kids.  If you are using screen time to incentivise, try to link it to positive behaviours.  For example “if you eat you your tea nicely then you can have (x minutes) of screen time”- as this is likely to lead to more positive behaviour change than “if you don’t eat nicely then no screen time.”
  8. If you are experiencing screen related behaviours such as non-compliance, reduced listening, pre occupation with screens, screen related non-compliance or periods of over stimulation following screen time. Try to work out why these behaviours may be happening and apply strategies accordingly.  For example, a child who is engaged in screen time or playing an app may have heightened focus for the screen and reduced capacity to listen or multitask.  Repeated instructions given to a child who is engrossed may not be heard or processed unless you gain their attention first.  Gaining their attention and having them repeat back your instruction lets you know they have actually heard you, reducing frustration for a parent who is now being listened to and child who has not suddenly lost their iPad for not listening.  Clear and consistent boundaries help to minimise screen related behaviours and also allows you to have clear consequences if the rules are not followed.
  9. Safe screen time is essential. Make sure you know what your kids are watching/ playing/ the sites they are visiting.  Make sure you have age appropriate restriction settings activated.
  10. Effective screen time rules should reflect your family’s needs so, some inter family/ inter friend differences are to be expected. Know your family, what makes your family tick and have the confidence in the rules you set.

Toddler Fun Learning has created a cool app for younger kids where you can set the amount of screen time you want and the app sings a goodbye song when screen time has finished, a good option for helping to reduce the “just one more minute” battles! The Toddler Fun Learning app is available on the App Store for iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.

Article written by child behaviour expert and parenting coach Livvy Gormally

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