If you’re like many parents, you probably have a love-hate relationship with your kids’ screen time:
On the one hand, screens keep kids occupied and can be a helpful tool for learning, but experts say too much screen time also has health risks, like sleep trouble or developmental issues.
So, like everything in life, opt for flexibility: Screens are part of our world, but we also need to make time for human connection. To strike a middle ground, it will take some boundaries, creativity, and maybe a little negotiation.
But you can do it. Little by little, these steps can help you get there.
Make a plan—and (try to) stick to it
In general, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that most kids should get a maximum of about an hour daily of educational screen time, yet the average kiddo watches TV for about three times as long.
Still, those guidelines are just guidelines—and they may not always shake out in real life. Try to set up some general rules for your family using timers, screen-free zones or hours, or TV settings. This Family Media Plan builder from the AAP may help.
If kids inch toward their allotted time for the day, give them fair warning so that the cutoff doesn’t come as such a shock. That said, don’t fret too much when plans go awry. If rules slip now and then, and you allow them more time to get a few moments to yourself, it’ll be okay. Just reset and try again the next day.
Communicate the why
Help kids understand why screen time rules exist. To do that, it might help to have an open dialogue about the decisions you make as a family and approach that talk from a respectful place. Give children time to ask questions, so they feel included and heard.
Compromise on content
The quality of media matters just as much as the quantity. If kids ask for more screen time, insist on making it worthwhile. Opt for educational programs when possible—there are many age-appropriate learning apps, games, and interactive books to choose from.
Trade efforts for rewards
Use screen time as a reward for good behavior. Whether you organize a whole chore chart with TV as the reward or simply tack on some extra screen time at the end of the day in return for good deeds, the premise is the same: Help kids understand that hard work and good behavior pays off.
That goes for you, too. If kids see you clean the kitchen after dinner before kicking your feet up in front of the TV, it can help reinforce the mantra even more.
Create a fun alternative
Instead of making kids seek out their own screen-free fun, help them find other ways to explore their environment—from scheduling daily nature hikes to heart-pumping family games.
Activities don’t always have to be physical. Jumpstart creativity, problem-solving, and imagination with a family board game, puzzle, or charades. You could even read a book together or create a family art studio. Gather some drawing or painting supplies and see where inspiration takes you.
Be a role model
Kids watch what you do, so if you frequently check your phone or binge TV before bed, they might not take your rules as seriously.
So establish some boundaries that work for the family, but give yourself some leeway. We’re all doing the best we can.