How to deal with kids and screen time in this digital world

Having kids grow up in this digital age can be hard to navigate. So many adults are addicted to their screens and not able to separate from their digital presence. How do we help our kids balance the appeal of being online and playing apps, with using it responsibly and encouraging play in nature and real world experiences.

My oldest having special needs complicates this further as he depends on ipads to access language, and experience he physically cannot interactive with. We use ipads and computers and netflix for him to communicate, and learn all about many different things. How can I give him so much access and teach his younger sisters we don’t always need to be glued to phones, tablets and computers. Add in the fact that both my husband and I earn all of our income with website development we are financially dependent on our screens.

What the experts say

We’ve all seen the studies and articles on facebook, one says apps and tv programs are good for kids the other says it can negatively affect their behavior, eyes, attention span, etc. So it can be confusing to figure out what’s best for your kids. As with most advice on parenting I’ve seen, I realize that what works for one family may not work for another.

I’ve seen first hand how helpful ipads and apps can be for all 3 of my kids. My oldest is learning to communicate with it, my 7yr old is interested in coding and my 5yr old creates cartoons and expresses herself creatively alot better with certain apps. I actually wrote a blog post all about educational websites we love! But I’ve also seen when they throw fits when the device battery dies or it’s time to leave and they need to stop playing. They also seem to be whinier and fight with each other more.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great toolkit that can help guide you in this digital world. They have a Family Media Plan Wizard that walks you through the process. You list the children and their ages and it gives you recommendations based on their age for different situations (ie; screen free zones, screen time limits, what content they can access,etc), you can also add in your own rules including letting your kids help decide what might help them. Once your done it also gives you the option to print it off so it can be displayed for everyone to reference.

How we handle it

Both my girls understand too much screen time is not healthy for their brains so when it’s time to shut down, for the most part, they do not get upset any longer. But it’s not always easy. We’ve had many days when they get upset and throw a fit, but that’s resulted in consequences of no screen time. I’ve had to be very consistent with that punishment and now they know we are serious and not going to give in.

One thing I think has helped us is giving them time limits and warnings when time is almost up. Also I never let them just grab their tablets on their own, they always have to ask and if there is something that they haven’t finished cleaning up first they need to address that first.

We’ve had extensive conversations discussing what is appropriate for them to see online. We also check the apps out before we let them play and they can only watch approved youtube channels.

Once we started to be really consistent with our rules, and discuss our reasoning with the kids, they’ve started to really be more cooperative with our rules on screen time. I think they understand as much fun as screen time is, there will be more time tomorrow and there is so much fun to be had on and off screen. I hope we are instilling that balance now in their early years so as they get older and the temptation to spend hours scrolling and clicking through the internet, they will be able to resist the addiction and have a healthy balance.

Another resource to check out is This guide to what the internet is from ATT Internet Service. The workbook can be downloaded and printed for kids to do the activities and learn all about using the internet. This is definitely geared toward a young age, probably for those just going in to kindergarten and just begun giving more access to the internet.

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