We live in a digital world, so screens are a huge part of our everyday lives. And with school back in session, kids use screens more frequently during the day. Managing screen time during the school year is a big deal for all of us. And since we all spend a lot of time with technology, it’s up to us to help our children have a healthy relationship with their screens. 

Managing screen time during the school year is essential for our kids’ development. 

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, too much screen time can have side effects, including:1

  • Sleeping problems.
  • Poor self-image.
  • Less time spent outdoors.
  • Lower grades.
  • Attention disorders.

Define how much screen time is enough.

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t have a set recommendation for kids 6 and older. They do recommend that parents set consistent limits and ensure that screens don’t replace sleep and physical activity.2

Explain to your kids that too much time sitting watching screens is not healthy.3,4 Establish consequences if they break the rules you set for them.

Practice what you preach. 

The hardest part of managing your child’s screen time may be managing your own. Kids learn by watching. They will establish their relationship with technology based on your relationship with technology. If you always have the TV on or scroll through your phone whenever you have free time, they will probably do the same. 

If you want your child to learn responsible technology use, model it for them.

Adjust the limits based on the day.

Different days may call for different screen limits. For some families, school days may mean no screens. For others, screen usage may be significantly reduced during school nights. Weekends may get extended screen time. You know your family and should do what’s best for your household. The most essential aspect of screen time is balance. Kids need physical activity and creativity. Make sure they are spending time being active, whether structured or unstructured.

Make bedrooms screen-free.

Keep TVs, video games, and computers in common areas. This keeps kids from disappearing with a screen for hours. It also helps you know what they are using screens for and how much time they spend on them. Screen-free bedrooms are a little more challenging with phones and tablets. Charging devices (even your own) overnight in a common area can be helpful.

Studies show that using screens before bedtime makes it harder for kids to fall asleep. It also reduces sleep quality. And when kids are tired, it’s harder for them to learn.5 

Give your kids other options to keep them active instead of screen time.

They can take walks, ride bikes or scooters, or play outside. Offer other indoor activities, like board games or crafts. Set aside time to play with them. Kids need to be active daily. Even if you can’t be active with them, you can encourage and support them in their activities.

Have them earn screen time during the school year (and beyond).

It’s okay to make your kids complete homework and specific tasks or chores before you allow them to have screen time. There are different ways parents can put this into practice. One option is that homework and chores come first. Then they can have a set amount of screen time depending on how long it is until bedtime. Another is to allow them to earn screen time by completing chores. You can create a system where a task earns X amount of screen time.

Encourage your children’s creativity.

If your child loves watching videos or playing video games, encourage them to create their own. My daughter loves to make videos when we travel. She wants to show others the places she visits and tell them about her experiences. We don’t share these, but she is learning how to vlog. When she gets a little older, she can learn how to create these and make them shareable. 

Engage with your child’s technology. 

Watch videos with your kids and learn to play their games. Both of my kids enjoy watching YouTube creators. We watch with them so we can understand what they are watching, but also learn with them. My son loves to watch a former NASA engineer, and my daughter enjoys cooking videos. We’ve learned a lot as a family through their videos. It’s also common in our house to have family video game nights. Let’s just say MarioKart tournaments get intense!

Look for ways to engage screens as a family through games, videos, or apps.

Use mistakes as teachable moments. 

As your child learns more about technology and screens, they will make mistakes. They may accidentally visit an inappropriate site, watch content you would not approve of, or go over their screen time. Mistakes are great learning opportunities. 

Questions to consider moving forward:

  • What’s one way you can improve your own screen-time habits?
  • What are routines you can start to encourage physical activity and creativity?
  • What area in your house can you designate as a tech-charging zone?
  • What are activities your child can engage in that don’t involve screens?
  • What task can your child complete to earn screen time?
  • What’s one show that your family can watch and use to grow together?

Managing screen time requires patience. Pick one or two of these that you can implement, and choose the easiest for your family. The key is consistency. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right all the time. Remember, their mistakes (and ours) make for great teachable moments.

Other articles:

Your Ultimate Guide to Screen Time

How Much Should You Limit Kids’ Screen Time and Electronics Use?

Screen Time for Kids: Guidelines, Boundary Setting, and Educational Recommendations

Sources:

1American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Screen Time and Children.

2American Academy of Pediatrics. Children and media tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

3U.S. National Library of Medicine. Health risks of an inactive lifestyle.

4Barnett, T.A., et al. (2018). Sedentary behaviors in today’s youth—approaches to the prevention and management of childhood obesity: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000591.

5Chang, A.M., et al. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1418490112.

Moreno, M.A., et al. (2016). Media use in school-aged children and adolescents. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2592.

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