Want to help your kids develop healthy screen time habits? Here’s how to help them enjoy screens without becoming addicted to them.
Talk about a hot topic for a parenting debate!
“Kids get too much of it.” “Only lazy parents allow it.” “It’s ruining the next generation.” And on and on…
But I’m here today to offer my 2 cents. Because I have a completely different opinion about it altogether. I don’t think screen time is bad!
Yep. You heard me right. I don’t think it’s evil. And I don’t think it’s going to turn my children into useless human beings.
Because screen time in and of itself is NOT a bad thing! And it isn’t something to be strictly limited or saved for emergencies or special occasions.
It’s simply a tool that we need to learn how to use properly.
WE LIVE IN A DIGITAL AGE
We’re raising our children in a completely different world than what we knew as children. Sure, we had TV and computers growing up. But it was nothing like it is now.
Technology is an ever-increasing part of our lives. And screen time a wonderful thing…if you’re taught how to have a healthy relationship with it.
It’s a bit like chocolate cake.
Call it “bad”…it makes you want it more.
Make it a thing of guilt and shame…you might try to seek it out in secret.
Limit it severely…you’ll never learn proper self-control. And you might binge whenever it’s readily available.
Just like cake, we have to understand that screens aren’t going anywhere. They’re here to stay.
So rather than worrying about the judgment surrounding screen time, I’ve chosen to let our family enjoy it, guilt-free.
I want us to learn how to live with it in a healthy and natural way. Then it can fulfill its purpose as a tool of information and uplifting entertainment. And not become an addiction.
Ok, let’s dive into when screen time can be a good thing…and when it isn’t.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
WHEN IS SCREEN TIME A GOOD THING?
The combination of kids and screen time can get a bad rap. But it can actually be a good thing!
SCREEN TIME IS EDUCATIONAL
There are more to screens than endless annoying versions of “Baby Shark”. In fact, the quality of many shows and apps is actually very high.
Have you ever heard of the Sesame Street effect? As it turns out, educational programs can impact learning in children!
Of course, sitting your kids in front of a screen for hours isn’t the purpose. But your kids can definitely benefit from fun educational programs.
My kids love playing apps on their Kindle Fires. And what makes them even better is Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited. It’s amazing. (This version includes 1 year of FreeTime Unlimited.)
Here are some of their favorite apps:
- Nick Jr.
- PBS Kids
- Teach Your Monster To Read
- Toca Lab: Elements
- Champion Math
- Squeebles Spelling Test
- Little Piano
- You can also check this article from Newsday for more great ideas.
As for shows, we don’t have cable. But my kids have several favorites that they watch on our Apple TV apps. (Daniel Tiger is my preschooler’s current favorite, and my older two are currently in love with Odd Squad. )
SCREEN TIME CAN BE A MOM’S BEST FRIEND
Seriously. It can.
I love using Independent Playtime with my kids to get things done. But there are times when I just need more time. Or a break. Or to make dinner without dealing with hangry kids.
I do try my best to be engaged and creative with my kids. But let’s be honest. I can’t do it every moment of the day.
And there’s nothing wrong with using a screen to entertain the kids for a little bit.
SCREEN TIME IS A FUN WAY TO RELAX
When my kids get home from school, they want two things: A snack and a chance to decompress.
And they usually want to do this by turning on a show.
Now, I should probably clarify one thing. I don’t believe in strictly limiting screen time, but I do believe in healthy habits, and that includes being reasonable about how much they watch.
During the school year, my kids get home late and there isn’t a ton of time before dinner. So after homework and a snack, they set a timer and watch or play something. Then they can still have enough time to play together or even help with dinner.
(The length of the timer depends on what we have going on that day. But our times are usually around 30 minutes.)
SCREEN TIME CAN BE SOCIAL
We love to get out as a family. But we also love to stay in!
And whether it’s just our family or if we have friends over, we love watching and playing things together.
(We got a Nintendo Switch last year and it’s still a favorite activity!)
SCREEN TIME IS JUST A PART OF LIFE
Technology is all around us. And our children will be exposed to screens everywhere.
That’s why it’s vital for our homes to be the teaching ground for their proper use. If not, they will learn elsewhere. And you can’t control what they’ll be taught.
Honestly, it’s just like teaching our children about sex. It needs to come from us first.
There are a few important things we can teach our kids about creating screen time habits that are healthy. We can teach them how to:
- Make screens their servants, not their masters
- Recognize inappropriate content – and what to do about it
- Balance their responsibilities with their leisure time
- Keep their screen time choices open, and not secret
- Be comfortable talking about what they see (This can be especially important if they come across inappropriate material.)
- Recognize cyberbullying (toward them or others)
- Enjoy screen time ALONG with a balanced, well-rounded life
- Learn proper etiquette when using technology
- Find opportunities to engage with other people without technology too
SCREEN TIME ISN’T ALWAYS A GOOD THING
I’m pretty relaxed when it comes to screen time. But I still strongly believe there needs to be boundaries.
IS IT APPROPRIATE?
One thing I’m not relaxed about is what my kids are allowed to watch. It’s my job as a parent to teach my kids proper values and behavior. Therefore, my kids don’t watch and play everything the kids at school do.
We made it a rule that my husband and I have to see everything first. And sometimes, there are games, movies, and shows that don’t align with our family’s values. So our kids miss out. And that’s ok.
There are plenty of other fun options to choose from.
It also gives us the chance to talk with our kids about what’s appropriate and why.
For more information on this, learn how to warn your kids about pornography.
RULES ARE STILL IMPORTANT
Yes, screen time can be educational. But it’s still entertainment.
And life isn’t all play and no work. So before they can play with screens, my kids have to complete their responsibilities.
But I don’t treat it any differently than if they wanted to play outside after doing their homework. And I don’t allow it to be any more enticing than other fun choices.
Also, I don’t believe in “earning” screen time. Just like I don’t make my kids “earn” dessert.
I’m totally ok with using bribery occasionally. But it’s more the exception than the rule.
Time for another food analogy: (I like food if you can’t tell…)
If dessert is only earned, it can give the impression that healthy food isn’t something to be enjoyed. It’s something to be endured so you can get to the good stuff.
And in the long run, that isn’t sustainable. It’ll only work if you’re right there making sure it happens.
But the goal is for our kids to eventually want to eat healthy because it makes them feel good. (It might take 18 years, but hopefully they’ll get the idea!)
It’s the same with screen time. If earning screen time is used as a bribe, our kids might miss out on learning the importance of responsibility and work. Bribery puts the emphasis on screen time rather than healthy habits.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying screens after completing responsibilities, but it’s separate. Not “because of” anything.
If you’d like more info on the difference between bribes and rewards, check out this article from Slate.
THERE ARE STILL A FEW TIME LIMITS
While I’m not overly strict on limiting screen time amounts, I do try to help my kids understand how much is too much.
Just like the chocolate cake I talked about earlier, it’s fine to have it…in moderation. Too much and you won’t feel good!
I tease them all the time that too much will turn their brain to applesauce. (Again with the food comparisons!) We’ve also talked about why.
Every child is different, but my kids get grumpy when they spend too much time on screens. And they’ve learned to make that connection.
We also have a few limits on when screen time is allowed. For example, we don’t allow screens:
- First thing in the morning
- Right before bed (except on our monthly family movie night)
- During meals (my husband and I included!)
- When we’re out as a family (except during road trips)
These are just rules our family has set. Please don’t think you’re doing anything wrong when you use your phone to quell a tantrum in public or let your kids watch a show on Saturday morning so you can sleep in a little.
Screen time comes with so much parental judgment! But you aren’t parenting your kids to meet other people’s expectations. You’re doing what works for you, your family, and the goals you’ve set for them.
For more information on why it’s not good to give our young kids too many freedoms, check out this article from Chronicles Of A Babywise Mom.
When our kids can learn how to have healthy screen time habits, they can enjoy technology without becoming addicted. And that’s good news, because like it or not, screens are here to stay.
Again, I don’t think kids should have unlimited access to technology, but I don’t think it should be demonized either. Kick them outside to play sometimes, but let them enjoy screen time too.
Want to help your kids create even more healthy habits? Get them started with goal-setting! It’s a powerful way to keep them excited about learning and growing.
You can grab a goal ladder along with a set of instructions for parents in the free Goal Setting Starter Kit. Then your kids can get excited as they get ready to work on their new goals.
OTHER HELPFUL POSTS:
- How To Talk To Your Young Kids About Pornography
- Dream Big: How To Help Kids Set Goals (In 4 Easy Steps)
- How To Simplify The Before And After School Routines
- How To Turn A No Into A Yes (And Still Set Clear Boundaries)
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