We just went through a pandemic, so screen time limits likely went sayonara with our social lives. Every family is different, and every parent out there is navigating their own course. This is no place for guilt or judgment.
But maybe you’re ready to get back to a somewhat normal, pre-pandemic state. School will be out soon, and there won’t be a solid reason to need a screen.
There actually is a price we pay for the moments of quiet and entertainment screens provide. The cost could be our children’s loss of creativity, focus, sleep, or happy mood.
Screens are addicting and overstimulating to your child's still-developing brain.
Have your children become screen zombies that want nothing else?
Or do they whine or become irritable after screen time?
Or do you just want to reel in how much they are spending on screens?
Then it’s time for a reset so you can get back in control of your tech.
This doesn’t mean giving up screens forever. That is unrealistic. But it is a period of about 3-7 days (or longer) where you go screen-free to reset your children’s brains and bodies – like a detox. Then you can reintroduce screens where YOU are in control again and you can establish your routine.
If you think you and your family are in need of a reset, I have some tips for you. I've done resets with my own kids because screens are a slippery slope and life happens. Maybe it's a stressful week for you, a new baby, an illness, or a pandemic! It's never too late to get back on track. These are the strategies I've used to detox my kids from too much screen time and place new limits. If you are seeing more serious behavior challenges with your child, I highly recommend you read the book Reset Your Child's Brain by Victoria Dunckley.
1. Plan Ahead
This is not something you declare after an outburst when your emotions are heightened. It needs to be thought out and deliberate. Look at the calendar and choose your screen-free weekend/week. If the thought of 7 days without screens is horrifying, try for 3-4. But I can bet when you start to see the differences in your kids you might be willing to go for the full 7. It needs to be at least 3 days though to get the full benefit.
2. Get Everyone on Board
You and your partner must be in agreement. And if your partner is not on board, ask them to just give it a few days. You will see a difference in your kids!
It should be discussed with the kids beforehand too. Make it super clear that this is NOT a punishment. I always turn to books for conversation starters, and these are good ones to highlight what too much screen time can do to us.
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3. Stay Busy
This is part of planning ahead too. Get enough activity ideas together so there isn’t a moment to be tempted by screens. I have compiled a list of over 75 screen-free activities to do at home. It’s a free download on my website here.
*Side note – I absolutely recommend letting kids get bored and not filling their days with activities by the minute. But this detox period is not the best time for that. It’s better to keep them busy so they aren’t thinking about wanting screens.
4. Get Out
Try to go somewhere every day. It takes up time and gives you a change of pace! Are you tempted to turn on the screens right when you wake up? Go have a breakfast picnic at a park. Do you use them in the afternoons? Plan a fun outing to a children's play space, the library, or a Target trip instead.
5. Stay Strong
It’s going to be tough. Day 1 is the worst. You will likely hear whining, tantrums, outbursts, begging, rude words, etc. Don’t. give. in. It WILL get better. Screens have similar affects on our brains as drugs. They are addicting. This is the “withdrawal” period and you need to break the habit. If you want to read more about it, I highly recommend the book Glow Kids by Dr. Nick Karadaras and Reset your Child’s Brain by Dr. Victoria Dunckley.
6. Put the Devices Away
When they are out of sight, they are out of mind. Put the tablets in a drawer, video game consoles can go in a closet, keep your phone in your purse or a different room when kids are around, etc. Computers and TVs are hard to move, but you can unplug them or hide remotes.
7. Be a Good Example
This should be a family effort and it’s important for you to limit your screen time in front of the kids. Save the phone scrolling and Netflix for when they are in bed. Think of this as a special time to create connection by doing screen-free activities together.
8. Not Even Just a Little
No screens, means no screens. Not even just a few minutes. Not even at school or grandma's. (Best to start on a weekend!) Your child needs these dedicated days for their brain to detox and not be exposed to the extra stimulation. They need to exist in the real world, be bored, and relearn how to just be and play. If they get a little screen time, it just triggers that dopamine cycle of wanting more.
9. Set Limits for the Future
When it’s time to reintroduce screens, make sure you openly discuss your new limits. If you have older kids, you can even create them together. If you have kids 5 or younger, I highly recommend following the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Make sure to outline when screens are allowed (best to not use them immediately upon waking or right before bed), where they are allowed (best not to allow them in bedrooms or while eating as a family), and a time limit for the day.
10. Know Your Choices
Screen time is a tool in your parenting tool kit. You always have a choice of when you allow it and what type of screen time you allow. Remember, you are in control now! When it comes to overstimulation and addiction, app games are the worst - even educational ones! Choose a TV show at a distance instead.
And then there are many choices of shows that still cause overstimulation. Choose a slow paced show with less scene changes, muted colors, and single noises at a time. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or Trash Truck are good examples. Cocomelon and Sponge Bob Squarepants are examples of shows to avoid.
So there are my top 10 tips for taking back control of tech. You've got this! It will be SO worth it, I promise.