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Screen Time Struggles

Set Screen Time Limits and Stick to Them!

Screen Time StrugglesScreen time. It’s a phrase that might not have been in your vocabulary five years ago, but as a parent today, you’ve heard it countless times. There are so many options and opportunities for children to be on a tablet, phone or computer that it’s hard to know how to manage their access. How much screen time should kids have? Is there a correlation between screen time and sleep? What about screen time and anxiety?

Screens provide opportunities for fun and engagement – from homework help to building friendships online – but too much screen time can affect your child’s sleep habits, attention, and mood. You know it’s important to set boundaries around screen time for kids but what should they be? And what happens when your child breaks those set guidelines?

  1. Treat Screen Time as a Privilege

From the beginning, it should be made clear to your child that screen time is a privilege. Even more importantly, a privilege that can be taken away. Have frequent check-ins with your child about screen time, screen time limits, and why it’s important to have these limits.

Accepting limits can be especially hard for children with ADHD that become obsessed with gaming or watching YouTube. Trying to pull your child away from Fortnite can feel impossible. But screen time and ADHD can co-exist with clearly defined guidelines and rules.

  1. Initiate Rules and Consequences and Stick with Them

As a parent, you’re the designated screen time manager. Set clear rules for your child’s screen time use and stick with them. You know your child best so build your family’s screen time rules and consequences around your child. Does screen time help motivate him or is it his kryptonite resulting in zero productivity? Does she get to earn extra screen time for chores? Does he have to finish all his homework before screen time?

Of course, knowing the rules and following them are two different things. When establishing the rules, develop and reinforce with your child what the consequences are for not following them. This doesn’t have to be severe but it should be appropriate to the situation and consistent. If your child gets a 10-minute screen time break for every 30 minutes of studying but then refuses to get off the screen and back to the books, what does that mean? Does she get a warning or does she lose screen time for her next break? If this continues to happen you may have to change the rule so homework is completed before any screen time.

While setting these goals and consequences – be realistic. You’re not going to be able to limit screen time all together but you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with it. Make sure your child understands the rules and provide help to reinforce them. Create a poster together listing the rules that your child can hang up in her room. Explore screen time apps to install on all devices for some extra support in tracking and even turning off access to the Internet.

  1. Set screen-free times and screen-free zones

Children with anxiety or ADHD may already struggle with falling asleep and staying asleep, and access to phones or tablets makes it worse. Restrict your child’s screen time at least half an hour before bedtime (an hour if you can manage it!). Routines are critical for children with ADHD and other learning disabilities, so relinquishment of their devices should be built into their daily nighttime routine (including weekends).

The temptation of screen time is great and it’s easy to keep texting or scrolling Instagram when you can’t fall asleep. To help alleviate this issue, don’t allow your child to bring electronics into their room at night. Set up a charging station in the living room or kitchen where all electronics must be plugged in each night. If necessary, keep devices in your bedroom.

Think about other times that you could realistically take screens out of the mix. Would a screen-free dinner make sense? Maybe no screens in the morning while your child is getting ready but he can use it in the car on the way to school?

  1. Set an example

It takes a lot of follow-through and consistency to get your child to abide by these agreed-upon screen time rules, but it’s equally important that you follow suit and set a good example. Even little changes can make a big difference. Go back to the classic alarm clock to wake you up in the morning instead of your phone’s alarm and leave your devices out of your bedroom each night.

As parents, it’s easy to be concerned about children and screens, but too much screen time can wreak havoc on you as well. Set limits on your favorite social media site or other apps and stick with it. Check your weekly screen time report on your phone and try to cut it down.

Screens have become so ingrained in the lives of both parents and children and while they can keep us connected and sometimes even productive, it’s important that we remember to set and stick to our own personal screen time limits!

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