Screen time for kids is something most parents are a little concerned about so today’s post is all about my tips for limiting screen time.
Most of us adults grew up with TVs and computer games, but we didn’t have the incredible array of tablets and phones and handheld gaming devices that many kids have access to today. We also didn’t have the constant pull of the internet and social media platforms that suck us in and constantly draw our attention.
There is so much to suggest that the internet is turning our kid’s brains into mush and they have attention spans shorter than a goldfish!
Many kids spend hours and hours every day glued to their screens and, let’s be honest, it’s an easy form of childcare for us parents!
But we all know the impact too much screen time can have on our physical and mental health. Spending a day indoors watching TV, playing computer games and scrolling through social media makes you feel ‘meh’. You feel lethargic and tired but also kind of wired and like you can’t fully switch off and relax. Your brain is still ready to fight a zombie that could be lurking under the sofa! There’s also the curated nature of social media that can lead to comparison issues and self doubt.
So how do we limit screen time for children when we live in a world where we’re all addicted to our devices!? And how do we stop older kids whose whole lives revolve around their phones!?
Taking devices away from kids isn’t solving the problem
Everything else I’ve read online about limiting screen time for kid’s focuses on taking the devices away from them, turning the wifi off and setting up parental controls so devices can only be used for limited times a day. And yes, if you set limits it is going to reduce screen time but it’s not dealing with the problem.
You can take an iPad away from a child or set limits on how long the iPad can stay on, but aren’t we better off raising them to be people who don’t want to be glued to their iPads? How about we teach them about more fun things to do than play Minecraft?
Screen time doesn’t need to be the enemy
Before we go any further, I really need to point out that I’m not against screen time for kids at all! I love gadgets and technology and 90% of my work is all about being online and sharing what I do daily via social media! I love the internet. I love social media. I love gaming!
I love going to bed early with my iPad and mindlessly scrolling, video chatting with my friends and browsing and watching utter crap on YouTube…sorry…I mean watching high quality programming on the BBC! Even my morning workouts see me glued to my screen!
And because I love this stuff, guess what, so do my kids!
I’m not against screen time for kids at all.
I actually think it can be amazing and so much fun. Kid’s devices have the potential to be educational and sociable and inspiring and even promote physical activity too. And let’s not forget that iPads are life savers for long journeys. How did parents survive long flights before iPads were invented!? My kids even love watching our old travel videos on YouTube and that keeps them entertained for so long!
But something I am a keen advocate of is getting outdoors and having hobbies, something that can fall by the wayside when we have the distraction of devices keeping us indoors and excessive screen time taking up our time.
So here are my top tips for reducing screen time for kids
1. Don’t focus on screen time limits for kids – Focus on the alternative activities
For me, the devices aren’t the enemy and it’s not about taking screen time away or forcing set limits on kids. It’s about putting the kids in situations where they don’t want their screens and that often means creating alternative activities for them.
For some parents that might mean going swimming or trampolining or to soft play or bowling. Or maybe you prefer to be outdoors and go hiking or to the park or to the beach. Maybe it needs to be something free like setting up a den under the kitchen table and having a picnic in there, going for a bike ride or playing hide and seek in the garden.
Most of us know that taking a kid’s iPad away and telling them ‘run off and play’ isn’t going to work. Sometimes we need to help them find an activity that is way more fun than playing computer games or watching YouTube!
Read more: 15 tips to get your kids playing outdoors more
2. Lead by example
I know this is a hard one and it’s been difficult during the pandemic when many of us have been working from home and we’re glued to our computers from 9-5!
But when you’re not working, PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN! Maybe we should be setting limits for ourselves rather than our kids!
3. Encourage hobbies and sports
We’re just getting to the stage where my kids are joining after-school clubs and they do things like swimming lessons, tennis lessons, Beavers and football.
I know it’s not always possible because the prices of these clubs quickly add up but you can always make it a regular activity you do yourselves. Something like going swimming after school every Wednesday or going to the park every Thursday to play football. Doing it on set days makes it feel more like a non-negotiable thing that you do every week.
4. Plan family activities
If we don’t plan anything for the weekends then our Saturday and Sunday will involve a lot of screen time! The whole ‘let’s just stay at home and chill’ doesn’t really work for us because we just spend the whole weekend watching TV!
So we always do our best to make sure we have a few activities planned.
Here are some of my favourite family days out in the UK.
5. Make books exciting
I still can’t quite believe this works but it does…
Every 2-3 weeks I take my kids to the library and they LOVE it! There’s a little cafe there so we have a cup of tea and a biscuit and they can choose up to 10 books each! They love choosing their books and spend the next few weeks reading them and looking at the pictures.
The reason I can’t believe this works is because we had a phase of reading books on the iPad via Kindle Unlimited but they actually prefer going to get the physical books and the routine of going into the library. It’s a nice, easy afterschool activity for the afternoons when we have nothing planned.
6. No screens after bedtime
I know I said screens shouldn’t be the enemy and it’s pointless taking screens away but I do have one exception and that’s at bedtime.
We have a strict 7pm bedtime in our house but my eldest son often isn’t ready for bed at that time. So we tell him he can stay in his bedroom and read/write/draw/play LEGO until he’s ready to sleep. Having a TV or a tablet in his room has never been an option so he doesn’t question it.
7. Create areas where kids can draw and colour and craft
I think lots of us say we want our kids to be creative and wish they’d spend more time colouring and drawing and crafting….but we don’t actually create a space where that’s easy and possible.
I used to keep our colouring box in a cupboard upstairs (and it never came out!) but when I moved it to an easily accessible cupboard next to the kitchen table my kids started using it all the time.
Every Christmas I ask my parents to buy the kids some crafty things like paints and pens, pencils, crayons, glue, stickers etc and they get so much use out if.
8. You don’t need to entertain kids 24/7
You need to entertain kids with an endless list of activities to limit their screen time. Kids quickly learn to entertain themselves if they’re in the right environment.
For me, the best and simplest trick to get my kids off their screens is actually to go and sit in my bedroom or the garden and read a book.
My kids are still at that age where they follow me everywhere. If I sit in the living room then they will sit next to me and watch TV! But if I sit outside then they’ll follow me out there and play outside!
9. Use screen-free tech
We don’t need to turn our backs on technology completely. In fact, there’s a lot of kid’s tech that keeps them entertained without a screen.
One of the simplest examples is a home smart speaker like an Alexa! My kids use the Alexa all the time to listen to audiobooks, play games, ask silly questions, play music, listen to kid’s podcasts and (more often than not) play animal noises.
A Toniebox is another great option. I have a full Toniebox review here.
I’m also a big fan of the Nintendo Switch, which I know isn’t screen free but it’s a fun way for the whole family to play an active video game together. We often play Just Dance or Mario Party all together and it’s a fun way to keep active and play something the whole family can get involved with.
10. Borrow a dog
Having a dog is a surprisingly healthy addition to the family! We love our dog but I also love the fact that he forces us all to get outside and go for a walk everyday.
The kids know that walking the dog is a non-negotiable daily activity. Louie needs to be walked in the same way we need to brush our teeth and eat our dinner.
He encourages us to go out and exercise, even on the coldest and most miserable of winter days!
How much screen time is too much screen time?
The answer to this question will be entirely personal and I don’t think we should be comparing ourselves to anyone else or letting anyone else dictate your child’s screen time. You know your kid best so you decide! You’ll find some screen free families who will say any time spent on a device is too much time for young children, while other parents feel they need some quiet screen time for their own sanity!
Personally, we have some days where we’re on our screens for hours and some days where no one even touches a phone. It’s all about the weather and other activities that are going on and I don’t think we should beat ourselves up if we use an iPad to entertain our kids from time to time!