Research shows that too much screen time is detrimental to a developing brain—it reduces attention span and decreases patience as well as impulse control.
That being said, sometimes a parent needs to have their kid watch a screen to maintain THEIR own sanity or if they have something they need to get done, etc.
This issue really comes to the fore with Covid-19 and social distancing.
Yes, we give ourselves permission to be more lax with screen time during this time, but that doesn’t take away the addictive nature of screens. (For more about the addictive nature—the dopamine feedback loop—click here.) Below are some tips for how you can keep your child from getting glued to a screen and reduce screen-related tantrums.
Tips for Managing Screen Time:
1- Schedule screen time into your child’s daily schedule, so it’s not at their beck and call—that is much of the addictive nature of it—reaching for it whenever you feel like it—not a good habit! This increases distractibility and decreases ability for sustained attention. It also reduces one’s ability to emotionally cope with difficulty, since instead of being with one’s uncomfortable emotions, one reaches for a phone to distract oneself.
2- Set time limits and make these time limits known at the start of each screen time use: Example: “You have ten minutes!” Also give them a two-minute warning. This lets the child know what to expect, as well as gives them a sense of agency when they follow your instruction to put the screen down. At this time, provide positive reinforcement, for example: “You did a great job of getting off the Ipad!”
3- Minimize your use of screens in front of your kids: Model the behavior you want them to do. Furthermore, when they see you on your phone, they are triggered (think classical conditioning, Pavlov’s dogs) to wanting to watch their own screen. When you really need to be on a screen, try using your laptop instead of your phone and see if your child isn’t triggered by this. For example, WhatsApp can be found on a laptop at: https://web.whatsapp.com/
Suggestions for When Parent Involvement is Possible:
1- Go Outside
Take a walk outside or simply bring some toys to your backyard. Being in nature is relaxing and fun, and is also beneficial for attention.
Baking is a fun, sensory experience! Note, for more frequent baking—there are a lot of healthier recipes out there to choose from!
3- Arts and Crafts
Along with being entertaining, doing arts and crafts helps your child develop their fine motor skills. Search on Pinterest for “easy arts and crafts for kids” or ask friends or Parenting Under Quarantine Facebook groups for suggestions.
Screen Time Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
More tips for managing screen time can be found in the 3 following articles: