Make Screen Time Quality Time for Your Little Ones!
Technology – can’t do with it, can’t do without it, isn’t it? Technology helps us stay connected to others in a world where families are increasingly becoming nuclear and global.
And here is the truth - technology is here to stay. As adults, and more importantly, caregivers to young children, we need to find a middle ground where we can co-exist with technology without letting it rule and disrupt our lives. And increasingly, the realization is dawning that moderation and setting limits around screen time may indeed make our children less of addicts to screen time rather than demonizing it and disallowing screen time completely.
Welcome to today’s blog where we speak about how to handle screen time for your young children (0-5 years) – a very relevant topic for our times.
What is screen time?
The term “screen time” refers to the amount of time spent using a device with a screen, such as the television, laptop, mobile phone, tablets, computers, video gaming consoles – you get the idea, don’t you?
What are the recommendations around screen time by internationally recognized organisations?
Screen time is not recommended for babies and toddlers under two years by the World Health Organisation due to the innate sedentary nature of the activity, thereby promoting obesity, and also disrupting sleep.
The American Academy of Paediatrics, in their guidelines released in 2016, recommend no screen time until 18 months, except video chatting, and that, only if there is no impact on face to face interaction, and the amount plus quality of sleep.
Children above 18 months -24 months up to 5 years can receive around an hour of screen time or less, but the screen time they receive needs to be high quality, and preferably interactive. It would also help if a care-giver was present around them, discussing the content actively along with them, instead of one-way reception of screen time.
We say – the later you introduce screens, the better. But as children grow up, caregivers reach burnout levels at some point, and screen time becomes an easy escape from the responsibilities of caring for the needs of very young children.
However, children at that age do not have the self-regulatory capabilities required to limit their screen time on their own, and then it becomes important to set limits around screen time so that there is some level of moderation.
A study from Cleveland Clinic confirms what we already know – excessive screen time lowers the child’s development and hinders progression of their motor skills in a major way.
We have seen enough and more articles around how we need to reduce screen time – heck, we have even written a blog about it ourselves at The Nestery (https://thenestery.in/blogs/journal/screen-time-science-backed-ways-to-reduce-it).
But we also recognize that screens are a part and parcel of our daily life, so we thought that we would put together a list of some ways you can use screen time effectively while moderating its use.
How can you moderate screen time?
- Be a role model yourself – Limit your usage of technology as realistically as possible around your child and involve them in other activities as well, that are tech-free.
- Set some rules for the family – Where can they use screen, when can they use screen, what they can use the screen for, and the content they can consume depending on age – cover all this in these rules.
- Set limits beforehand – Parenting is all about setting limits, and this applies to screen time too! Before switching on the screen, sit down and discuss with your child on the time limits. Be consistent and stick to the limits set beforehand. We recommend limiting exposure to media to under an hour for your 3-5 year old. This could mean saying only x number of videos and done, or setting a timer indicating end of screen time – whatever works for your child.
- Screen time should not be alone time – Try not to use the screen to baby-sit your child. Even if they are seeing something on the screen, watch it with them, have a discussion around what they are watching, or interact with them, instead of passively watching the screen.
- Limit access to internet – The internet is not a safe space as we all know. The rules of the real world still apply online - you would not let your young child meet a stranger offline in an unsupervised setting, right? Children below 6 years do not need access to the internet – supervised or unsupervised.
- Do not use screen time as a coping mechanism for a tantrum – Talk to your child and help them through their feelings. In case of a tantrum, do not thrust the screen at them, hoping to make the tantrum go away – it creates a digital dependence, leaving your child unable to cope with their emotions in a realistic manner – not great in the long run.
- Avoid using screen time as a reward mechanism or a punishment tool – Rewarding good behaviour with screen time may sound like a great idea. But this can be counter intuitive, remove intrinsic motivation to do a chore, and even make kids see this as a transactional relationship – “If I do X, can I have an hour of screen time?”
- No screen time during food – For young children, family meals are a great way of introducing them to different textures, tastes and family foods and it is ideal that their focus be on their food completely. A rule of no technology during meal times can effectively increase family bonding, while also helping your child recognize their satiety signals and develop a positive relationship with food in the long run.
- Turn off media in the background – That blaring television that nobody is watching? Turn it off. It can be a distraction during play time.
- No screens in the bedroom and before bed time – Screens can trigger dopamine release, unsettling sleep schedules and exciting kids before their bedtime. Keep screens out of the bedroom and insist on no screen time before bed.
- Remember the 3-6-9-12 Rule – The 3-6-9-12 rule is simple!
How can you use screen time effectively?
- For conversations with caregivers or family members - It is OK to use screen time to have a two-way conversation with the child – caregivers or families keep in touch increasingly through technology, and this is acceptable since this is not a passive medium.
- Participate in your child’s screen time - Screen time can be a great way to start a conversation with your child – discuss the content you both are watching, point out interesting things in the video, correlate it with reality, ask questions, you get the drift, don’t you?
- Find quality content – E-books are great, as are apps that focus on a learning goal. Interactive apps that ask for a response from your child too encourage communication with the screen.
- Look for age appropriate content – This is important because content that is too advanced can be frustrating, and content that is too basic, may be boring. Both situations lead to disinterest.
We hope this blog on using screen time effectively helps you to set limits with your child, and moderate their screen time.
Know of any good screen time apps/content for young kids that fit the bill, that you recommend? Comment below!