Do you ever feel like family bonding time is in a constant – and sometimes losing – battle against the allure of forever-pinging smartphones, tablets and laptops?
If so, you’re hardly alone: The average U.S. child under 8 now puts in more than two hours of screen time a day, according to a study by Common Sense Media, a non-profit media research organization. That’s a sobering number that actually exceeds the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology [CSEP] 24-hour movement guidelines for kids up to 17 years old.
The good news? These five simple tips, from professionals and parents alike, can help ensure your family is controlling its devices, and not the other way around.
1. Embrace the slow movement
One technique recommended by Toronto-based child and family therapist Joanna Seidel is to simply sideline all mobile devices during family activities outside the home.
“For example, no one should have phones out in a restaurant,” she says. “Kids need to learn to be patient and converse with adults [in those settings].”
Keith Saulnier of Parry Sound, Ont., is a father of three who also preaches the virtues of slow living.
“As we’ve reduced our kids’ screen time, they’ve complained about being bored,” Saulnier explains. “But being bored is good. It forces them to entertain themselves rather than depending on a screen to entertain them. Now when we come into the room, we’re more likely to find them reading books or playing with Legos.”
2. Own the WiFi switch
While there are plenty of ways to limit kids’ screen time, if you really want them to buy in, the same rules need to apply to the adults, too. (See 4 simple steps you can take to curb your cell phone addiction.)
“Fostering healthy technology use starts with the parents modelling that they’re not attached to their devices,” says Seidel. “That means showing you can come in the door and put down your device for several hours at a time.”
For a foolproof way to do this, look no further than your home router: “Some of my clients shut off the WiFi at a certain time of night and that’s it for the Internet,” says Seidel. “The whole family follows that rule.”
3. Plan more outdoor activities
Playing outside with your kids is a great way to bond as a family without depending on screens for entertainment.
And there’s another potential benefit: A 2017 study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that near-sighted six-year-olds generally spent more time indoors than their peers.
“We can’t conclude that kids are spending all their time indoors on a screen, but there is potential for correlation,” says Dr. Christine Law, a pediatric ophthalmologist in Kingston, Ont.
Her advice? “I tell my patients that at the very least, kids should spend the same amount of time outdoors as they spend on their screens.”
4. Make screen time a trade-off – and make sure your kids ask first
For Kelly Jones, a mother of two in Toronto, screen time has to be earned.
“We encourage the kids to take care of their responsibilities – putting away clothes, tidying, music practice, homework – before even asking for screen time,” she says. “This way, we find that the tasks get done with a lot less whining.”
5. It’s all about balance
Finally, while limits are important, parents also need to make sure kids are comfortable with technology. Moderation is the key.
“The world is shifting toward more technology use, so having a computer or tablet to [help your kids] learn math or reading and writing is fine,” Seidel says. “The key is to find a balance.”