5 tips...

5 tips to reduce screen time for children


Lately I wrote a post about indoor activities with children, and I think it’s useful to add some tips about how to reduce screen time for children. Usually, during holidays and the cold winter period, children get very tempted by TV, computer games etc. There are many ways to become active instead: go swimming, ride bikes, go walking etc., but there are always „those“ days where our children just want to chill and watch something.

In my opinion, setting screen time limits is vital for all children (and adults!). With screen time I intend „passive consumption“, like TV or DVD. Obviously, every family has to decide how much time a child is allowed to spend in front of a screen per day. As they already have some screen time at school (starting in primary school…) or need it for their homework etc., I think it’s even more important to monitor screen time in their free time.

Here are some tips that can help you and your kids to spend less time with the screen turned on. Before starting: set up clear rules your children and yourself can keep to!

First of all, it would obviously be wise to be the positive role-model. You probably will have to limit your own screen time too.  If our children see us following our own rules, they will be much more likely to do the same.

1. It can be useful to track how much time every member of the family spends in front of a TV, watches DVD’s, plays video games, and uses the computer for something other than school or work. Compared to the physical activities of every single member, you can easily realise what you need to change.

2. Set some house rules when TV or computer is off-limits. For example, never turn on the TV or use a computer, cellphone etc. while having a chat with the children or during meals. We have a clear rule about no mobiles or other electronic devices during meals, and this applies to all of us, parents and guests included.

3. Never use the TV or computer as a reward or a punishment, because it will make them even more appealing.

4. Set a clear time schedule for screen times. During holidays these screen times are sometimes a bit longer, but should never exceed. How you can recognize that your child spends too much time in front ot the screen? If your child has problems to go to bed or fall asleep at night, if it develops attention problems or anxiety, it’s time to reduce screen time.

5. Talk about what your children are watching on TV or computer. Explain how to cope with adverts. This helps them to understand the commercial pressures and to become more screen-savvy. – Get them to think about what they are watching.

6. If you think that watching TV or DVD’s is already a habit in your family, give your kids alternatives.  We really are spoilt for choices: sports, hobbies, outdoor activities etc.

Do your children have a TV or computer in their bedroom? Removing them from your childrens’ rooms will reduce their consumption about 1.5 hours per day. Furthermore, having a TV or computer in their bedroom, will lead the children to spend less time with the rest of the family.

It’s important to differentiate screen time: There is the passive screen time like watching TV or DVD’s and the more active screen time, like playing games (Wii, DS, computergames etc.). Among the computergames, those requiring problem-solving and concentration can even be educational. But some of them can lead to „addiction“ and as parents we should be attentive that our children (and we as well!) don’t pass the very fine line between passion and obsession.

How much time do your children spend in front of a screen per day? And you? Do you have any more suggestions about how to reduce screen time for children or how to make it become a more productive free time?

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17 replies »

  1. This is an AMAZING post! I’ve done several like this and contributed to a couple of others: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/963474/can-screen-time-cause-childhood-depression and http://www.divinecaroline.com/22106/127731-technology-making-kids-depressed. This is such an important subject…I’m sure many parents don’t realize the short-term and long-term effects of too much screen time.
    I’m following your blog now…thanks for coming to visit mine. 🙂

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  2. Do you also have limited book time? Most parents would say that they don’t because they want their children to be good book readers., so why limited screen time but no limited book time? The arguments raised in the past against reading books (and in the earlier times, against writing) were pretty similar to the arguments raised against TV- that it’s going to mess up with our children’s heads. TV/computer/DVDs are not bad- they can be put to use in a very educational way. I don’t know why, but in common understanding, books=education, and TV (or anything with a screen)=bad entertainment, that’s not fair to any medium. Just as we can pick to best books for our children, we can pick good programmes and films- and even we can use bad films to discuss why ithey’re so bad. Now, personally, I don’t like the TV much, we don’t own one and don’t miss having one. Everything we need we can get from the Internet- which is not to say that TV is bad as a medium, but rather that we don’t need one. As for as the Internet is concerned, it can offer many opportunities for our children- whether we want it or not, our children will grow up with media all around them, so we better teach them to use them well. After all, we don’t limit food, instead show healthy choices and let our children eat how much they want, right? NO, TV/films is NOT passive- audience research has shown that there is a lot going on in a person while they’re watching TV- since they then discuss their experiences with friends and family, even though they don’t seem to “do” anything. Why we demonize TV and movies, and instead can point out that they can be useful if they don’t over do it- but it’s the same with books they can be as addictive as TV/DVD/video games. The only difference is when you tell people you’re a “book addict” they’ll think you’re really educated. If you say the same thing about TV/DVD/video games/Internet, they’ll most likely to sneer at you…I think the only problem that TV can pose is the fact that it can cut away time to play outside- but so can books, school, doing homework, etc. Sorry for my lengthy comment, but I just think that it is not fair to always say TV is bad, or just a medium is bad (and if you’re telling people to limit screen time, it gives the impression that it is bad, like junk food, when it is really like food in general)- it can be used well, and that’s what media are for.

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    • With all due respect, Olga, I think I made my point clear. I’m not against TV, computers or anything from the “new” media if used wisely and especially if the time spent in front of the screens is monitored. And about books: I think every intelligent parent, teacher, carer agrees with me that books are very important for children.

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      • I see my comment made you angry, I’m sorry. Your points are definitely valid- and reducing screen time for both children and adults can be a good thing- and I have to remember to switch off my computer too many times! However, many claims against these media are just myths. Nobody writes articles about the bad effect of books (and there are many!), while there are thousands of articles arguing against TV/movies/games- why? People believe that books are good bad there are bad books, while other media are bad and there are good films/websites/you name it. That is not fair. About the educational value of books- of course, but nobody mentions the educational values of films/video games/Internet, and they are certainly not used at schools. About the negative effects of these media- books have to be used with caution as well. After all, movies, TV, video games are just as part of our culture as book, and I don’t see why we even should make this distinction. This of course, is my media culture education speaking through me- I sued to think that books are so much better than anything else, but now I’m not so convinced- I think we have to be more accurate how to talk to our children about media- there is no good or bad media, instead there can be useful and educational and wonderful books and films and games.

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  3. Hi Olga, don’t worry, your comment didn’t make me angry. I just don’t think that reading books and passive screen time should be compared to eachother in the same post or article. If you read, you actively do something – we always can discuss about what should be good/better to read, but maybe I’ll talk about this in another post. But if you sit in front of a screen and watch a DVD or TV, most of the time you just “consume”.
    The more time our children spend with passive activities, the worse it is for their physical and mental health. I think we both agree with this?
    I don’t think that I did depict a “TV, computers etc. are bad, books are good” picture in this post. It surely wasn’t my intention. There is good and child appropriate, educational TV, there are very educational computer programmes and games and there are good and appropriate and educational books for our children. It’s up to the parents to help the children make the right choices. But my post wasn’t about this.
    It’s more about the time we all spend in front of a screen – computer, TV or else. Our children already spend some screen time at school. They start at preschool and it increases with homeworks later on. Personally, I love that my children are so familiar with computers, tablets, iphones etc.. But I’m very aware that if I would let them, they would spend 100% of their free time on these electronic devices. It is an issue for parents who have children at school and I think it is one for parents with even smaller children too, if they use them.
    Personally, I have never seen a child beeing grumpy after having read tons of books, but a child that has spent a certain amount of time sitting in front of a screen becomes really aggressive… have you ever tried to switch off the TV, computer etc.? You know how hard it can be to teach your child that he or she is allowed to spend only a certain amount of time per day or week on the computer, TV’s etc? I’ve written this post for all those parents who, like me, have to set screen limits for their and their children wellbeing.

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  4. And you are right to do it, and I will do it as well- I am definitely planning to limit my own screen time, and to switch off the computer- and will do it for the children as well. We watch a lot of videos on youtube, but only a certain amount is allowed, etc. I can imagine that it’s hard- and I don’t even have that problem because my children are little and can’t use the computer on their own yet. And yes, there is time for watching and time for doing other things. I don’t agree on the “just consuming” part- it is an assumption made everywhere, but there is research showing otherwise (the coolest thing I’ve seen was a study done on how different culture react to the series “Dallas”- the differences were huge thus proving that there is an active involvement involved in watching TV- called appropriation (making your own). Also, TV also shapes the way we perceive culture and helps shaping our identity. I also don’t agree on books being somehow different from other media- yes, the medium itself is different, thus requiring a different content, but each medium is different and each has its own advantages and disadvantages and books are media, too. Of course, with the multitude of media they all compete for our attention, and especially the books are losing out, but with the e-readers reading seemed to have become cool again- Klara loves operating my kindle. Also I will try as hard as I can to convey my love of reading to my children but I am also excited about exploring the different media- the ones we have now and the ones that will emerge in the future- and maybe a good idea is to discuss intermediality and the differences between the media-maybe I’ll write a post about this. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  5. Hm, I think that most children just consume TV. Only if they watch a chosen DVD or a TV programme or film that they will be able to talk about afterwards, then they really are involved. But for the rest: try to ask your child what they’ve watched after a few hours: they will be able to tell you only a small part of it. For the rest, they will just have “absorbed” it.
    I think the study you’re talking about was about adults watching the Dallas series, right? Well, I’m talking about children.
    Books are media, I didn’t say they are not. As I said: there is a huge range of books and the same way we, adults, decide what to read and what not, we should be selective for our children too (I don’t say that you have to decide for your 15 year old, but let’s say until they’re 8/9, yes).
    I think as parents we have to help our children to cope with all that’s on the market, to make good decisions.
    You say Klara operates your kindle, soon she will operate your cellphone, computer etc. Maybe you’ll have to fight to have your computer time. – I’m glad all this was inspiring for you.

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