Whether it's a smartphone, tablet, watch, laptop, virtual reality headset or computer, it's most likely your child is an active user of one or more of these devices. In moderation, screen time can be a healthy experience for your child to learn, play and develop new skills. However, if not kept in check, even a very young child can develop a severe addiction to screens, inhibiting and slowing the development of other important skills like social interaction and making sense of the real-world.
It's not easy to balance this as a parent, especially if your child throws a fit at the very mention of having to "turn it off."
Here are five tips to help you establish a healthy screen time balance for your kids.
Talk to your kids about technology
While this one might seem obvious, all too often parents are finding out about new apps and new technologies months, even years after their children start using them. One of the best things parents can do to begin to effectively create a healthy screen time balance is to understand what the apps and programs are that are kid appropriate and that kids find most popular. With that being said, it is also vital that children know what to do when they see something inappropriate, or if someone they don't know tries to establish contact with them. This knowledge can only come from parents talking to their kids about this, clearly and directly so there is no misunderstanding.
Helping children understand that it takes more than just passively staring at a screen to create friendships is imperative for their social development and growth. Make sure your child understands that while technology can help us learn things and stay in touch with people they love, it is always a privilege and not something that can be abused.
Set screen time rules
Whether screen time has become a dominant activity for your child or if they are just starting to familiarize themselves with technology, it is important to set screen time rules. If your child is a spending too much time on the screen, an abrupt change might be necessary but also may incite unintended consequences, much like, unfortunately, what you would see from an addict going through withdrawals. If your child is on the screen more than two hours per day, perhaps start by decreasing that amount by 15 minutes per day for a few days until they get down to a healthy dose of daily screen time. Also, making sure that your child is not viewing a screen at least 90 minutes before bedtime will help them rest better and be less irritable.
Create a supportive environment
One of the best things a parent can do to help achieve a healthy balance in screen time would be to first practice this balance themselves. Children will do what they see their parents do, and it will be difficult to implement new rules if the parents aren't willing to do the same. Other simple measures can be taken to add to this environment, like setting aside two-hour blocks in the day that are "screen free," keeping TVs and screens out of the bedroom and actively playing with your kids in some sort of physical activity or board game.
Teach children to prioritize screen-time activities
The vast amount of activities, games and apps can be very overwhelming to a child. Making the most of these apps is even harder. Another way to help cultivate a healthy balance is to set aside time within their designated screen time that must be used for learning something good. For example, Living Scriptures and their streaming service is a great resource for learning the stories from the scriptures and modern history.
Set the example
Another way to create balance in screen time is to set the example. Show your kids screens are not required to have fun and that playing outside, using imagination and exploring are even more rewarding than playing game or chatting with friends on their devices. This is hard to do and takes effort, but the pay off in terms of their happiness and overall well-being will be well worth it.
A healthy balance is necessary for a child to develop normally and happily. While implementing some of these practices will take effort and might be painful for a child and their parent, the child will thank the parent someday for helping them navigate through this ever-changing sea of technology.
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