Successfully Reduce Screen Time for Your Kids
How to Reduce Your Child’s Screen Time in this New World.
When I think back to my own childhood, very little of it revolved around screens. Sure, I may have watched a few hours of Saturday Morning Cartoons, but after they were over, I didn’t have any other choice but to find a screen free way to entertain myself. That’s not the case for today’s kids.
Between tablets, smartphones, laptops, and the good old-fashioned television, kids have almost constant access to a screen. Combine that with the fact that many children have been attending school virtually for almost a year now and you’ve got kids that are more tethered to screens than ever before.
Don’t get me wrong, screens are a saving grace sometimes. When you have to make a phone call to the insurance company, or wait 45 minutes at the doctor’s office, or even get 20 uninterrupted minutes to take a shower, having the power of YouTube on your side is a wonderful thing.
However, as a parent coach, I’ve started encountering more and more parents who feel like their homes have been hijacked by screens; moms and dads that want to reduce the amount of time their kids spend glued to a tablet, but just simply don’t know how.
I have good news for you: it can be done. I can’t promise you that your kids won’t fight it a bit, but it can be done. With some adjustments to your routines and some easy “activity swaps,” you can greatly reduce your kids’ screen time.
Five Steps to Reducing Screen Time
- The first step in reducing screen time is to look at when screens are being used and how much they are being used. Do the kids veg out in front of the television on weekends? Do they hop on a tablet after school? Are they on YouTube in the car? Figure out how much screen time this adds up to per day and per week.
- Determine your “screen time goal” by deciding how many hours per day or per week you feel is appropriate for your children to be on a screen. (The American Academy of Pediatrics has guidelines that can help).
- Decide when and where you are going to reduce screen time. For example, are you going to eliminate DVDs in the car? Are you going to limit Saturday cartoons to one hour instead of three? Keep in mind that, for some children, cold turkey is easier than less; some kids do fine with turning the TV off after an hour whereas others will do better if the TV is never turned on at all. (HealthyChildren.org has an amazing tool that will allow you to create a Family Media Plan that you can print and post. If you have young kids, your posted plan will ensure that all caregivers are on the same page. If you have older kids, it will ensure that they understand the plan is nonnegotiable!)
- Determine some “activity swaps” (read on for our suggestions). Eventually, your kids will learn how to entertain themselves without screens, but in the meantime, you’ll likely need to come up with some alternative activities. For example, if you decide you want to get rid of the DVD player in the car, you’ll need to figure out what your kids can do instead of watching DVDs.
- Follow the plan as a family...even the adults. If you’ve identified screen free times or zones, make sure that you are also abiding by those rules. You can guarantee that your kids will be the first to call you out if you make them reduce their screen time but don’t reduce your own!
Helpful Activity Swaps for Reducing Screen Time
So, you’ve made a commitment to reducing screen time, now you have to figure out what your kids will do for the time that they were previously engaged by screens.
Podcasts, Books on Tape, and Audiobooks
Perfect for: Car Rides, Quiet Time, Waiting Rooms, Keeping the Kids Entertained When You are Busy
There is a whole world of family-friendly podcasts out there. Many of them are even enjoyable for parents to listen to! Streaming services like Spotify offer a plethora of audio stories that are great for kids and families. Alexa and Google Home will even tell your kids a story if you ask them to. If your kids want to have a visual to go along with the story, most libraries stock books on tape that can be played using a CD player.
Sensory Play and Science Experiments
Perfect for: Weekends, Rainy Days, Times When Your Kids say “I’m Boooooored!”
Play-Doh may have been the OG sensory play option, but with the availability of Pinterest, the options are almost literally endless these days. Keep a can of shaving cream and box of corn starch on hand, and you can make a ton of fun recipes that will entertain little ones for hours. If you’re in need of even more ideas, a Pinterest or Google search for “sensory play recipes for kids” will provide tons of options.
Gross Motor and Outdoor Play
Perfect for: After School, Family Time, Times When Your Kids Are Busy Bees
With dwindling access to recess and physical education, providing opportunities for outdoor and gross motor play after school and on the weekends is more important than ever. Take advantage of a local hike or playground to get the family out of the house on weekends. The happyly app can help you find vetted outdoor adventures near you - quickly and easily.
Investing in some high-quality gross motor toys for the backyard will quickly pay off when you need after school activities for the kids. (If you want to take your backyard play to the next level, we highly recommend checking out the Ninja Line. Not only is it less expensive than a swing set, you can swap out the obstacles to keep your kids on their toes!).
Perfect for: After Dinner, Waiting Rooms and Restaurants, Car Rides, Quiet Time
Activity books are an often-overlooked resource, but they are the perfect way to entertain kids when you are out of the house or need something an independent or quiet activity. For young kids, try Hidden Pictures, Dot-to-Dot, Mazes and Spot the Difference books. Older kids will likely enjoy harder tasks like Word Search, Sudoku, and Crosswords!
Perfect for: Rainy Days, Weekends, Keeping the Kids Entertained When You are Busy
Do you remember building forts as a kid? I sure do. Invest some time in helping your kids build an awesome fort, and you will be repaid with hours of quiet and contented play. Provide some blankets, pillows, books, puzzles, and some coloring books and you have a recipe for a Saturday full of screen free fun!
Perfect for: Rainy Days, Family Time, Weekends, Times When Your Kids say “I’m Boooooored!”
What’s process art, you ask? Process art is any art project that is focused more on the process of creating the art than the product. Nothing is worse than doing a craft project with your kids in which you have to do 90% of it because it involves cutting intricate shapes or hot gluing 62 googly eyes. By choosing process art projects, you give your kids creative control and give yourself a break from being the project manager. If you’ve ever done leaf rubbings or made “stained glass” by sticking tissue paper to contact paper, then you’ve done process art. Again, Pinterest and Google will be your friends here. Search for “process art projects for kids” and the internet will provide!
Perfect for: After School, Weekends, Keeping the Kids Entertained When You are Busy
This is the final, but arguably most important “activity swap” you need when trying to transition your kids away from screens as entertainment. Open-ended toys allow kids to play creatively and flexibly, which means they can dive deep into play scenarios. Things like wooden blocks, Lego, Magnatiles, train tracks, plastic animal figurines, pretend toys like doctor kits or baby doll sets, and play food and dishes are all great options. For a deep dive into how to choose great toys for kids, check out our age-by-age guide.
A Final Thought
The process of reducing screen time is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t be discouraged if you’re initially met with resistance. Kids that have grown accustomed to being entertained by screens often need to “re-learn” how to play. Let’s face it, wooden blocks seem kind of boring after you’ve spent most of your time playing brightly colored, fast-paced apps on an iPad. My most important piece of advice for families that are embarking on the journey to reduce screen use is to give it time. Your kids can and will learn how to exist without screens. I say this from experience.
Not too long ago, my own kids were addicted to screens. YouTube was a constant fixture on the television and the iPad was chock-full of kid-friendly apps. Eventually, we realized that screens were not only sucking precious time that could be spent as a family, but that they also seemed to be making our kids irritable, agitated, and wired.
Slowly but surely, we eliminated screens. We started by eliminating the DVD player in the car, then the after-school shows, next we deleted the flashy iPad apps, and finally we stopped the weekend morning cartoon veg fest.
We are now a completely screen free family, save for a movie night once or twice a month. It took a while, but with patience and persistence, our kids learned to survive without screens. They now spend their days playing pretend, coloring, playing with Play-Doh, listening to podcasts, building with Lego, riding bikes, and exploring nature.
I’m not saying that going completely screen free is the best option for every family, each family must do what’s right for them. What I am saying is that, even if you don’t think it’s possible right now, you can reduce your family’s screen time. I can say this confidently because I was in your shoes not too long ago. I won’t say it was easy, but I will say that it was worth it.
Please send us your favorite ideas for screen free fun at email@example.com, and tag your highlights on Instagram @gethappyly! We love to hear from you!
For more inspiration, check out another recently featured activity, Find A State Park Near You, make time for Family Bike Rides, or for ideas about keeping it fun, check out our tips for Hiking With Kids! For a fun activity at home, check out this list of fun Chalk Games.
If your weather still calls for a little more time indoors, check out our Top Ten Chapter Books to Read Out Loud to Little Ones.
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