When it comes to screen time and kids, it is easy to feel like you are facing off against a monster. Television and video games have been around for decades, but in recent years, use and ease of access has exploded. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children until 18 to 24 months and 1 hour or less per day for kids 2-5. As children get older, guidelines and recommendations get less clear. They can learn meaningful information from screens, but the potential physical and mental health drawbacks are great. We must learn to manage technology and train our children to do the same. When it comes to technology, we say “don’t monster it, manage it.”
Why Do Kids Crave Screen Time?
If you’re a foster parent, adoptive parent, or another kind of caregiver, you still likely hear “Can we do screens?” and then 5 minutes later “How about now?” during the summer. It’s a love-hate relationship for parents trying to fill endless hours and get something done with kids home every day, all day. We want our kids to have fun and we have endless to-do lists, but in the back of our minds we wonder “how much is too much?”
Technology triggers a dopamine release. Dopamine is our “feel good” hormone that makes us want to repeat the exciting activity. Someone liking your post on social media, your team winning the playoffs, and buying that new outfit gives us a rush.
Kids with ADHD are naturally driven toward high dopamine activities. Kids who have experienced trauma often lack maturity in the dopamine receptors and self-control system of their brains. Naturally, it can be even harder for our kids to handle screen cravings.
How Do We Manage Screen Time?
To set our kids up for success we need to have a clear, communicated plan. Each time we work with our kids to create healthy patterns and manage failures, we help them grow towards adulthood. Here are some parenting tips for managing screen time this summer:
1. Model Healthy Behaviors
Your child is watching how you treat technology.
- Put down your phone, turn off your computer, and encourage face-to-face conversation.
- Get moving as a family. Make a goal of one hour of physical activity daily.
- Try a new hobby or have a game night.
- Help your children plan their summer, focus on memory-making and favorite activities to avoid sliding into TV time.
2. Key to a Great Schedule
Even as adults, we stack our tasks to increase productivity. We will often use mental rewards such as “when I finish the laundry, I will watch an episode of my favorite show.” A “work before play” mentality can do wonders with our kids as well. Trying to get your kids off screens to go do chores is sure to cause a family war. Flip the schedule and watch your kids race together to finish tasks to earn some family screen time! Have some set rules such as: no screens during family dinners and screens off after 7pm.
3. Have Screen Time Together
Play games and watch videos with your children rather than forbidding them. As you play, help them process what they are seeing and doing on the screen. Find an educational movie to watch or use a movie theme to start a family discussion. Find sports video games that promote physical activity or plan a family video game night.
Not all screen time is equal. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media to review apps, games, and programs together. Your perspective influences how your children look at media.
If you are caring for a child as a foster parent, adoptive parent, kinship parent, or reunified parent, remember they may have seen very different screen time rules. They may be used to hours of screen time a day. Try to find out what they were used to and plan together to work towards healthier habits. A slow shift will always be better received than drastic changes.