How to reduce your children's screen time

Sten Kirkbak, father of four and co-founder of XPLORA, shares his thoughts on how parents can balance screen time with playtime.

Establish rules around screen time early on

children playing on android phones

While social media offers a great opportunity for adults to stay in touch with family and friends, for children who are growing up surrounded by it, social media can be a source of stress anxiety and, in the worse cases, cyberbullying.

Before giving your child their first smartphone, make sure that both you and your child learn about digital responsibility, signs of cyberbullying, coping mechanisms, and how to step away from addicting apps.

Use this shared information to place parental controls, rules, and limitations on their screen time, so your child fully understands and respects these boundaries. Basic, but important rules, can include not responding to texts from unknown numbers, your child informing you if they receive any texts from someone they don’t know, never sharing their personal information online or with anyone they don’t know, among others.

If you wish to educate your child further, some schools offer classes on digital responsibility. Alternatively, you can always visit cyberwise.org, which offers useful information on online security.

 

Make a contract for the whole family to agree to

making a screen time contract for the whole family

A formal contract will better establish consistency, clarity and respect around screen time with both you and your child. Writing down rules for everyone in the family to formally agree to will help outline boundaries.

Come up with the contract together—it could cover everything from specific times when digital devices are off-limits to all family members, to agreeing on a selection of games that can be played without supervision.

It’s also important to outline the intended use for specific tools like computers and mobiles, and the consequences, should these expectations not be met or respected.

 

What about parental controls?

should I use parental controls

When your child first begins to use their smartphone, establishing parental controls is a good idea. For example, you can limit access to internet browsing, block on specific platforms, or disable certain social media apps on your child’s phone.

The controls you set will be completely unique to you and your family, so do what makes you feel comfortable, but be sure to explain your reasoning to your child, so that they understand why they can’t have access to some things.

 

Lead by example

father and son playing together outside

When establishing contracts and limits on technology with your child, remember they will feel more inclined to follow rules when you do, too.

Telling your child to avoid screens if you are constantly attached to one is likely to result in tension and frustration. As a parent, it’s important to be a good role model for your child, not only with regards to technology but within everyday life.

Play sports together, have fun in nature and participate in the activities they love, to help embrace play both inside and outside of your home. When stepping away from technology becomes a family endeavour, it offers an opportunity for you all to connect, spend quality time with one another, and forge memories that will stay with them for years to come. In short, teach them to embrace offline activities. And do it together.

 

Reinforce the value of physical play

encourage physical play

As a father myself, I understand that we can’t keep children isolated from enjoying screen time. What’s important is that we find a happy medium where we enable kids to be kids, but also let them keep up with, and feel a part of, the modern world.

I recommend finding ways to replace screen time with play and physical activity, and even rewarding your child with items they enjoy if they reduce the time they spend on digital outlets or adhere to the terms agreed to in the aforementioned screen time contract.

By making the toys and games that your child looks forward to playing with accessible, they rely less on technology for passive entertainment. By nurturing and encouraging their creativity, your children will become less attached to their screen and seek happiness from creative play more readily.

 

Sten Kirkbak is the founder of XPLORA, the European leader of smartwatches that encourage children to experience the digital world through adventure and exploration

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