How to limit children’s screen time this winter

Winter is approaching and the weather will soon keep us indoors. This can lead to children spending more and more time in front of a screen. With children of age 5 – 16 spending an average of 6 hours per day in front of a screen, how can you limit screen time?

Many children now have smartphones, making it difficult to limit their screen time as much as you may like to. However, with some planning and creative ideas, it is possible to reduce the amount of time your child spends in front of the TV, tablet, games console and even their phone.

To start with, decide as a parent, how much and what type of screen time you are comfortable with – and be consistent. This can very much depend upon the age of your child. Research by the American Association of Paediatrics suggests the following:

• Toddlers: 18-24 months – high quality, educational programmes and games occasionally viewed with a parent or carer.
• Preschoolers: 2-5 years old – no more than 1 hour per day of screen time.
• Children age 6 upwards: No specific time limit but, ‘parents should place consistent limits on the time spent using media and make sure the media does not take the place of adequate sleep and physical activity’

Very often, picking up the iPad or turning on the TV is a habit that children get into because they are bored and don’t know what else to do. With the children’s input, make a list of activities that could replace screen time.

If you want to manage your child’s screen time more effectively, try the following:

1. Schedule screen time

For some families, it is easier to set a rule that there is no screen time at all during the school week (except an hour or two of family time TV) unless it is for homework purposes.

If this seems extreme, then set sensible limits and stick to them. For example, no screen time between four and six during the week and then I hour maximum in the evening. At weekends, you could allow 2 hours per day.

2. Provide age appropriate alternatives

Screen limiting strategies should be customised to suit the age of the child or young person.

For toddlers and preschool age children, you will need to provide an alternative activity to the screen to keep them occupied.

If you pass them the tablet to occupy while you hoover, try providing them with some craft materials or encourage them to play with a favourite toy.

Drag older children away from their smartphone or games console and include them in meal preparation. If you’re feeling brave you could ask them to help around the house or play with younger siblings in exchange for pocket money!

3. Turn off the TV

Many of us leave the TV on as background noise, without really watching it. Watch a family film, or, allow your children to watch their favourite show – and then switch it off. This will give you greater control over the amount of television your children watch.

4. Make them earn it

Ask children to complete chores, homework or help to prepare dinner in exchange for some screen time of their choice. Set clear limits – ‘If you tidy your room you can go on your tablet for half an hour before dinner.’ Or,’ if you walk the dog you can play your games console for an hour this evening.’

5. Screens in shared spaces

Keep the family computer, laptops, tablets and gaming equipment in a communal area of the house and don’t allow children to take them to their rooms. It will be far easier to monitor the time spent on them as well as the content of your child’s viewing.