If you’re a parent of a young child, you’re probably all too familiar with this scenario: Get home from work. Scramble to catch up on work emails. Rush to get dinner ready. Squeeze in time with your kids. Guiltily give them some screen time so that you can actually get a few things done.
It’s not easy. But here’s a few ways to use quality screen time to ease the guilt and stress that comes from acknowledging that you can’t be in three places at once and that not only is it okay to give your kids some screen time — it can actually be good for them.
Not only is it okay to give your kids some screen time — it can actually be good for them.
So how do you, as a parent, get to that sweet spot — time for you to do your thing while your kid engages in fun and productive ways online? The key is common sense and balance. What generally doesn’t work is spending your time on your device while denying your kid any access. Kids who see this tend to see that as unfair and you might have a rebellion on your hands. What does work is limits: Limits for you AND limits for your child. Even though your “grown-up” screen time might be more generous, it’s important for your kid to see you self-regulate your own use.
Even though your “grown-up” screen time might be more generous, it’s important for your kid to see you self-regulate your own use.
5 Tips for Setting Limits on Kids’ Screen Time
1. DO set clear, consistent limits that little kids can understand
Young kids have trouble understanding nuance. They are pretty literal. So being flexible with them opens up a Pandora’s box of endless negotiation. Instead, be super clear about days, limits, and situations that warrant exceptions. For example: 20 minutes of screen time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with exceptions for family vacations, traveling, and even sick days. Stick to it and make it fun. If your kid asks for screen time on an “off” day, remind them of the next time they get screen time. Ask them to tell you what cool thing they did during their last session.
2. DO be a good role model for using screens in a purposeful way.
As this great article points out, explaining to kids what you’re doing when you pick up your device is a great way to show that quality interactions are purposeful, versus aimless browsing and scrolling. As the article points out, you can say, “Hey, let’s check the weather” as you pick up your phone instead of just picking up your phone to check. Doing this let’s kids know that there’s a purposeful reason for you being online.
3. DON’T engage with a device while you engage with your family.
Another tip? Avoid engaging with your device while your child is engaging with you. Instead, put your phone down and purposefully say, “Let me put my phone down so that I can pay attention to what you’re saying.’ It might sound a little contrived, but trust us, it works. You’re signaling to your child that the device does not compete for their attention and that people are more important than phones, no matter how enticing. If you do that when they’re little, you won’t have to fight for their attention when they’re older and have devices of their own.
4. DON’T use screens as an “emotional pacifier”
Little kids need to learn how to deal with frustration, failure and conflict. Unfortunately, these three things are incredibly hard to deal with for parents. It is incredibly tempting to shove the screen in front of your kids to prevent them from whining, fighting, or to sooth them. While understandable, try to avoid this. Giving your kids screens in this way deprives them of learning important socio-emotional skills.
5. DO your homework.
Not all apps are created equal. At Papumba, we make sure that everything we create is research-based and educator-approved. That’s because we believe in creating the best, most developmentally appropriate education apps to help kids thrive and learn. But we’re not the only ones! There are lots of high-quality apps out there (and some that aren’t so good, unfortunately). So before you set the screen in front of your kid, make sure you research the apps they’re using to make sure their digital experience is safe, high-quality, and age-appropriate. Check out Papumba’s recent blog on how to choose the best apps for your kids.