Manage your children's summer screen time

Taking some time at the beginning of summer to set limits about electronics can help keep arguments at bay, and encourage kids to get out and play!

Take time to establish ground rules for screen time. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Take time to establish ground rules for screen time. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Summer break can be a great opportunity for children to get outside and play! Unfortunately, a lot of free time also often means more screen time: computers, TV, video games, hand held electronics, tablets, smart phones, etc. A recent study done by the Kaiser Foundation showed that American children ages eight to 18 spend an average of seven and a half hours a day engaged in some sort of media (TV, computers, etc.). If you count the time spent on each device individually (as children often use more than one device at a time), the average child manages to cram in 10.5 hours a day!

Taking some time at the beginning of summer to establish some ground rules for screen time can help keep arguments to a minimum and ensure kids are getting in plenty of other activities.

The first step to limiting your children’s screen time to is to come up with a plan and stick to it. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as giving each child an allotment of time, either weekly or daily, and then enforcing the limit. For younger children, a visual system such as providing children with a set number of half an hour “TV tickets” is a good reminder of how much time they have remaining. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages TV and other forms of screen time for children under two. For older children, a limit of one to two hours daily of screen time is encouraged.

Creating screen-free times and zones is also an important step in reducing media time. For instance, one day a week can be a “screen free” day, when families make a point in engaging in activities together and the TV and video games are turned off. Certain times of the day, such as meal times, should also be designated as “screen free” times, when the TV is shut off and cell phones are not brought to the table (this includes parents).

Changing the physical environment can help reduce screen time in the home as well. Simple changes, such as removing TV’s from bedrooms, moving computers into common areas, putting the TV in the corner of the room, rather than the center, and storing the TV in a cabinet with doors that shut when it’s not in use can also help limit the temptation to flip on the TV to surf when kids are bored.

Make sure the media content your childen are watching and the websites they are exploring are appropriate for their age and developmental level. Four out of five parents who have parental control software for their computers do not turn it on. Take the time to learn how to use parental controls to set limits on what websites or shows your child can access on the computer, television and other devices. Watch TV shows or movies with your children and engage them in conversation about the content. More information on Internet filters and show selection can be found online at Common Sense Media.

Be sure that you and the other caregivers in your child’s life are aware of your family’s media rules and are setting a good example. Avoid getting in the habit of keeping cell phones on and with you during meals, or spending hours surfing the web or watching TV during family time. Turn off the television when no one is actively watching it. Make sure that you are being an active and aware participant in your child’s media selections.

Summertime is a time for children to relax and have fun. With a little help and guidance from parents, a healthy level of screen time can be a part of that relaxation, along with playing outside, swimming, biking and generally having a great time!

For more articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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