Q: I have a boy and a girl, ages 6 and 8, who are overly focused on screen time with digital devices. How can I set limits without seeming like I want to take away all their fun? They insist all their friends use digital devices whenever they want.
A: Children will always push for more of what they want, whether or not it is good for them, but most children will respond positively when parents act authoritatively and set appropriate limits. Do not be afraid to say “no” to screen time. First, you need to find your own comfort level with technology and try not to be overly influenced by the culture we live in. You, not society, decide how to manage the devices in your home.
Second, realize that what children really want is to connect with friends and significant adults in a meaningful way. Look at your schedule and routine; how much downtime is there after school? If your children are not involved in positive activities after school, they are more at risk for overuse of technology. Most 6- and 8-year-olds can play independently for at least 30 minutes when engaged in such activities as sports, playing with friends, playing make-believe games or Legos, or doing art projects.
Children ages 6 and 8 are in school until about 3 p.m. and arrive home by 3:30 p.m.. Most will be in bed by 7:30. Here’s a suggested schedule for your children that could help you limit screen time:
Put away belongings, have a snack and school debrief, 3:30-4 p.m.
Semi-structured activity with or without friends, 4-5 p.m.
Dinner, 6- 6:30
Clean up and family activity-playing game, dancing, singing, 6:30-7
Teeth brushing and bedtime story, 7-7:30
Bedtime, 7:30 (an 8-year-old may read independently until 8 or 8:30)
Parenting Tips: How you structure time will directly influence screen time. Devise a plan for managing downtime with an adult available to be engaged when independent play breaks down. Recognize that the younger a child is when technology is introduced, the more reliant they will become on their devices. Children who use technology for extended periods (an hour or more) have more difficulty disengaging from it, since the interactive nature of technology makes it addictive.
Parenting Insight: Countless parents and their children in my practice have been able to limit screen time with support and encouragement. Both parents and children report tremendous improvement in their children’s attitudes when they limit screen time. Parents’ greatest fear in setting screen limits is backlash from children. Typical children do not respond negatively to limiting (not eliminating) screen time. Follow your gut. If you feel screens are taking over the climate of your house, they probably are, but they do not have to.
Your questions can be answered by Dr. Kate Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at katerobertsandassociates.com. Dr. Roberts is a solution-focused psychologist who coaches parents and children to develop life-changing strategies.