Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

Digital screens are everywhere, and we can’t stop them from growing, let alone our children being captivated by them. But we also need to regulate what’s on their screen and how long they should be on it.

Along the way, we only had to stress out about our kids watching TV for long hours or playing too many video games. We still do, but this era of smartphones, tablets, and social media tends to give kids much more digital access than we would’ve hoped for.  Children quickly get attracted to the wonders of exploring the internet and the wide range of social media consumption which ends up being difficult for parents and caregivers to control.

So what should we do as parents? What is our role in shielding our children from the dangers of too much media consumption? These are the following tips you can use as a guide to regulate your children’s screen time.

1 – Limit exposure for infants and toddlers

Children ages 0-4 years old are vulnerable to blue light exposure from the screens of their phones, television, or laptops. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly suggests that children avoid viewing their screens while they are under 18 months old.

Once they reach a certain age during their toddler years where their bodies can handle enough screen time, the AAP warns parents about strictly supervising what their children are up to online. If your child is already 2 to 5 years old, you should limit their consumption to an hour only. Make sure they are watching or scrolling through child-friendly media within that time frame.

2 – Be a good example

Before you give your child a chance to use your phone or computer, show them the right way of accessing them. You should develop healthy screen time habits that would set an example for your kids since they carefully watch everything you do. For example, avoid using your phone over dinner.  If your child wants to get your attention, do not ignore them just because you’re busy scrolling through your phone. That will give them an impression that they can do the same thing as they get older, even to you. Children learn by noticing everything and that includes their parents.

3 – Don’t undermine the relevance of physical toys and play areas

Even though it’s the digital age, and kids would rather play on their phones or spend time watching CoComelon, you have to teach your kids the joys of experiencing “free play” and learn from its unstructured ways. They will learn how to solve problems, basic social skills, and playing simply for the fun of it without overthinking things. Children should be free to make their own choices with boundaries as long as they are enjoying what they are doing.

Benefits of play for your kids:

  • They get to move around rather than staying put and getting stuck on the screen.
  • Children can be creative and use their imagination.
  • They experience how to make decisions individually.
  • They learn how to work and share with others.
  • They learn about leadership.
  • They increase their expressive and receptive language skills.

No amount of apps will ever compare to the experience of playing and socializing with other kids in person. Interactive activities allow children to acquire language skills in natural setting and teaches our children essential life skills that will benefit them as they grow older.

4 – Leave the laptop or tablet if not needed

Everyone, including your child, is inevitably bored at times during a long plane or car ride. While gadgets help provide good entertainment for long travel hours, you should find ways to keep them entertained by taking in the environment and talking about anything on their level.

5 – Supervise by watching things together

It’s normal to be worried about the subliminal messages the current media might deliver to audiences, especially children. Without supervision from parents, they might encounter content that isn’t child-friendly.

Watching alongside them allows you to censor things they shouldn’t see. If there are scenes that they don’t understand but require context, you can explain the concept to them.

6 – Screen time doesn’t have to be all the time

Parents and caregivers are the ones who should set boundaries on how long their kids have access to screen time. Their bedroom shouldn’t be full of screens so they won’t be tempted to watch tv or play video games on the phone or PC when they should be doing other important tasks. If you successfully establish ground rules and limitations on the media your child takes in, they will learn how to be responsible media consumers.

If you would like to take active steps in your child’s development, you can refer to Jo Ann Gramlich’s book titled ‘Talk Play and Read with Me, Mommy.’ This fun and educational resource will provide you and your little one with many creative ideas along with stimulating activities to help enhance your child’s language skills during the early years. It will assist and guide you when interacting with your infants, toddlers, and preschoolers during daily routines, playtime, or story time.  You can also use this book when you are on the move, so make sure to carry it wherever you go!!

Jo Ann Gramlich is an award-winning author and speech-language pathologist specializing in helping children with communication disorders in Buffalo, New York. She holds a Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology from SUNY Buffalo and has extensive experience in early intervention, preschool, and school settings. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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