Do you have the feeling that media usage got out of control in your family? Are you looking for ways to reduce screen time for good but without losing the benefits of technology? Then these effective strategies to reduce screen time are what you are looking for!
It’s no secret that too much screen time has a huge amount of negative side-effects. But how come we are having such a hard time to limit screen time for ourselves and our children?
The problem with screens is that they are convenient. There are so many reasons and excuses to pull out our phones that it has become automatic. If I’m honest with myself, sometimes, I don’t even know why I’m picking my phone – that only shows how much of an automatism it has become.
As parents, it becomes even more challenging as we can easily fall into the trap of using screens as convenient entertainers. When we need to cook, make a phone call, or just enjoy a few minutes of quiet time, there’s nothing easier than letting the kids watch TV or play a video game. And with the emergence of portable devices, it’s even easier to get tempted.
Here are a few strategies to monitor media use in your family and reap the benefits of screen-free time.
1. Take the conscious decision to reduce screen time
This might sound obvious but it’s key. You won’t be able to effectively reduce screen time until you consciously take the decision to do so. This goes beyond thinking: “I wish we’d limit the use of electronics…” This means you are determined to do something about it.
Also, we have to realize that if we want to limit the use of electronics for our kids, we’ll have to look at our own behavior with technology and possibly make a few changes.
Watch how often you use your own devices? Are you in front of screens more often than you wish? Then it’s time to make a change. Consciously watching how often I check my phone made me realize that I’m spending way too much time on social media. Now I’m taking action to reduce my technology use and focus my attention on more important things.
Also, it’s crucial to make sure technology doesn’t interfere in our interactions with our kids. Put your phone down when you are talking or listening to them. Avoid checking your phone when interacting with them.
As with any other behavior, we can strongly influence our children’s relationship to electronics with the way we use it. If we want our children to use technology wisely, we need to show them the way.
2. Avoid demonizing electronics
Electronics are omnipresent. It would be almost impossible to completely ban them – and there’s no point in doing so. Instead of demonizing technology, we should try to make the best use of it.
For instance, my elder son (almost 13) wants to be a pilot and gathered a huge amount of knowledge about planes and airlines by watching documentaries and reports. I tried to encourage him to go to the library as well but it turns out the books are too old to have the latest information. In this case, I’m thankful that he can use technology to access the information he’s looking for.
Also, some fun family activities, such as watching a film, playing a video game together or going to the movies, involve technology. The difference here is that you are sharing the activity with others and not isolating yourself.
In other words, not only the quantity of screen time is relevant, but also the quality. It’s important to differentiate the types of activities to make sure the whole family can make the best of their screen time.
3. De-condition from electronics
Like with many other behaviors, our use of electronics is often conditioned. We check the news in the morning, watch our favorite series after dinner, switch on the TV when we are in the living room, you name it.
Try to identify when family members are prone to using technology out of habit and find ways to avoid it if you think it’s not necessary. You could create screen-free areas and/or times, decide to mute notifications, switch off devices an hour before going to bed, etc.
4. Find alternatives
Today, we are used to reaching out to electronics for several tasks that could as well be completed without it. Finding alternatives to these tasks for the whole family is a great way to reduce screen time. Here are a few examples:
- Make a phone call or meeting instead of a long chat
- Go to the library, museum, or other places where you can find information instead of using Google or YouTube
- Read a book instead of an ebook
- Replace a video game with a board game
- Take a course instead of using online tutorials
Of course, I’m not saying that we should stop using electronics and go back to how it was a few decades ago. However, from time to time, it can be beneficial to put down our devices and opt for an alternative. Sometimes, social interaction is more important than efficiency or rapidity.
5. Encourage other activities
Beyond finding alternatives to the use of technology, it’s crucial to show our kids that there are many other things they can do.
Encourage physical and outdoor activities. Let them express their creativity through crafting or playing an instrument. Make sure they have access to board games, sports equipment, art supply, and non-electronic toys so that they have plenty of choices.
Also, encourage family activities that don’t involve electronics. Play a game together, go for a hike, to the swimming pool, or for a bike ride.
6. Set boundaries and be consistent
Obviously, setting boundaries is fundamental if you want to reduce screen time. And to be honest, this is the most difficult part of it as children might first resist the new rules.
Once you have decided on the amount of screen time, it’s important that you stick to your plan. Establishing clear rules will help avoid daily discussions and arguments about screen time.
Tips to limit screen time:
- Introduce tech-free time (meals, morning, etc.) and/or areas in the house (bedrooms).
- Define when electronics can be used: E.g., after homework or time spent outside.
- Use a timer: We can easily lose track of time when in front of our screens.
- Use an app: There are several apps to help you monitor screen time. Some only track the time spent on the different apps, others will shut down the device at a set time. You can also find parental apps that allow you to control your children’s use of their devices, set time limits, and lock apps (e.g. during school or at bedtime).
Personally, I think it’s important to include the children to the conversation when it comes to defining the rules. Not only will they be more prone to follow them, but they can also be very creative when trying to find win-win solutions. However, it’s important to remember that children do not have the maturity to manage their screen time on their own and that parents should have the last word.
Setting a frame for the use of electronics can require a lot of effort, especially at the beginning. However, you will quickly see that the benefits are totally worth it. Not only does reducing screen time have a positive impact on your health (sleep, posture, physical activity, etc.), but it will also free up time for more social engagement.
What’s your take on the topic of screen time and the use of electronics? Let me know in the comments section!