How to Reduce Screen Time for Kids

  Kale (8) was born with a lazy eye, so he did patching, where he wore a patch on his good eye and played games on an iPod, which forced the lazy eye to work. As a result, Kale’s eye sight has improved immensely, and I’m very grateful. At the same time, we ended up with a screen addicted child, to the point where he would be moody, beg for the iPod CONSTANTLY, have tantrums when asked to get off the iPod and sneak it in tothis bed at night. I realised Kale needed to reduce screen time because the negative behaviour was getting out of hand, so my hubby put Kale’s iPod in to storage. Kale was understandably devastated, however since we decided to reduce screen time, I’ve got my nice, happy boy back again.


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Educate yourself on the effects of too much screen time


I grew up in what my kids call ‘the olden days’ and in terms of technology, all we had was a family computer, and I bought my own Nokia mobile when I was about 15 with my own money. We had one phone on a cord, and I would stretch the cord to get it in to the next room and shut the door for privacy when I was talking to my boyfriend! There was none of this sexting my boyfriend on my iPhone like there is today! Parenting with screens in this modern era is a new thing, and therefore I need to take responsibility for educating myself on screens and the effects they have on kids. I’ve just read ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Screen Time’ by Noel Janis-Norton, a learning and behaviour specialist from the UK. This book is a must-read for parents, with practical tips on how to manage their screen addicted kids.




There are negative effects from too much screen time


Noel says that screen addiction is as real as a drug addiction because, ‘children and teens experience a burst of serotonin. The ‘feel-good’ chemical, when they accomplish somethings online, when they score or win…’ The negative effects of too much screen time for children, include: kids not getting enough exercise, addiction, laziness and a lack of social skills, which increases the likelihood of a child being bullied. What I found most alarming was this: ‘statistics tell us that for each additional hour a week a toddler or young child spends on a screen, the more likely he is to be diagnosed with AD(H)D a few years later.’ Too much screen time exposes teens to: cyberbullying, violence, inappropriate content, pornography, sexting and forums advocating self-harm/suicide.

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How much exposure should kids have to screens?


With so many negative effects, parents really need to reduce screen time! Some of Noel’s suggestions to reduce screen time include: having screen free days, establishing a drop-zone near the entrance of the home where all devices are kept, passwords that only parents know on devices, no screens in any bedrooms, setting screen limits for adults as well and following through when the set timers go off. Noel also suggests that because screen time is so motivating for kids, that parents use this to encourage kids to listen the first time they are asked to do something, and get kids to earn screen time. Noel suggests the following for leisure time on a screen: no screens at all for kids under 3 and a half, 30 minutes for ages three to eight, and one hour for eight year olds to adults.


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Reducing screen time will look different for each family


On the weekend I needed to sing in the city for one hour, and had to take Kale, because he had a chess class in the city. Kale asked if he could take his iPod and of course I said no, so he ended up taking a chess book. I said if he behaved himself and read his book quietly for one hour that we would go to chess class afterward and that if he didn’t behave himself we would be going straight home. Kale read beautifully for one hour and was surprised when I told him one hour had already passed. My almost four year old watches a movie for about one hour on most week days for quiet time during the day as he doesn’t nap anymore, which is what my other kids used to do when they were younger. Apart from that, my kids don’t really have any other screen time during the week. On weekends I allow the kids to watch a movie in the morning while I sleep in!


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Screen free ideas for after school

After school the kids occupy themselves by helping to cook dinner, doing homework, riding bikes outside, reading new library books, playing board games, playing on the keyboard, Lego, toys, 1000 piece puzzles, drawing, craft, skipping ropes, balls, and even love playing on their dad’s rowing machine and exercise bike! Yesterday afternoon we went for a three kilometre walk as a family and some of the kids took their bikes. We saw the wildflowers, stumbled upon a winter creek with a mini waterfall on our street, and one child opened up about having a relief teacher that day and how much they missed their teacher.


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What kind of family do you want to be?


I’m not saying to ban screens from the house entirely, but if the experts are telling us that too much screen time is bad for our kids and if there is scientific evidence proving this, then shouldn’t we try to reduce screen time in our homes? Do we really want to be that family where the only connection we have is a WIFI connection? Do we want to have kids that never learn to wait or socialise? Do we want to increase the likelihood of our kids developing ADHD for temporary peace and quiet in the short term? As parents we need to do what is best for our kids IN THE LONG RUN! Remember, how you parent today can affect generations of kids! Who is in control at your house- you or the screens?