Tips for managing screen time

Managing Screen Time in 2020

There are many different opinions about how to manage screen time with your children and it’s hard to know what advice to listen to. As a play therapist, here is what I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Not all Screen time is bad: Screen time can be helpful for your child and you too. We all need some time to just relax and take a break each day. For some of us this can be getting exercise, playing with a pet, reading, or watching TV, playing a video game, YouTube, etc. The point is that we all need a break sometimes and screen time can actually be regulating and calming.
  2. When is screentime bad? When it is either dysregulating or used as the only way to regulate. It is not a sign of health if screen time is the only thing our child does to calm down and regulate. It’s an art of finding a balance. Basically, anything in excess is not healthy! Even too much water can be unhealthy. We need balance and opportunity for lots of regulating activities (ex: exercise, reading, playing, socializing, etc.)
  3. Sometimes we need it! Sometimes, as parents, in order for us to be regulated, we need to have our children engage in screen time. A good example would be while we get ready in the morning or prepare dinner at night so that we can be present the rest of the time. Find the balance and stick to a routine that works for you and your child.

So how do we find this balance?

  • Regulated or not? If your child engages in screen time and then moves to the next activity are they more regulated or more agitated?  This can be a good indicator if this is a regulation tool for them or they would do better engaging in something else like reading, movement, art, building, etc.
  • Have a routine and stick to it. Whether you decide to have screen time in the morning, after school, or both, keep the same amount of time allotted and be consistent with it.
  • What about when you need more screen time? No problem. There are plenty of reasons why you might need your child to have more screen time that is not part of the routine. For example, you are headed on a 4-hour flight to visit friends/family, or your child is home sick from school, heck maybe you are sick. Just set up the expectation - you could say something like, “today is a special day and we get extra screentime and here is why.” Just remember to have this sort of thing remain special and don’t overuse.
  • Institute wiggle breaks. This can be really helpful for transitioning your child off-screen time once the allotted time is done. For example, if your child is allowed 30 minutes of screen time every evening. Set a timer and every 10 min institute a wiggle break. You will want to explain what a wiggle break is beforehand. The child can stand up shake out their arms and legs, do a jumping jack, stretch, get creative any movement really works. Just have them move their body while whatever is on the screen is paused so they can disengage even if it is only for a few seconds.
  • Be a good model. Let’s face it, what we model to our children they will pick up. How much time are you on your phone, tablet, computer, TV?  It is very difficult to enforce a rule to our children that we are not first modeling to them. If you are looking up from Facebook and telling your child they have 3 more minutes of screen time but you can stay on your device is setting you up for a big challenge. This can be tricky if you work from home and are on your computer or phone often, but manageable with more awareness and or conversation. If you work from home, set a specific place, table, room, or desk that can indicate you are working and explain this to your child.

Don’t forget to snuggle, engage in physical contact with your children, move, and be outside to regulate and connect.

Kelly Miller, LCSW, RPT/S, RYT-200