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5 Ways to Reset Your Child’s Relationship With Screens

There’s no doubt that technology plays a big part in many children’s lives, and the time spent looking at screens is only increasing. Ofcom estimates that screen time has risen to 3 hours for 3–4-year-olds and 4.5 hours for 8–11-year-olds every day. The effects of the pandemic have only contributed to this further, with kids’ education, social lives, and contact with family largely moving online during lockdown.

We shouldn’t paint all screen time as bad though. In fact, the educational and interactive content available can be beneficial for children’s learning and development, especially above the age of two. However, the often passive nature of watching or listening to a screen results in a lack of engagement of the other senses, e.g. touch, smell, and taste. When screens are relied upon too heavily, it can lead to issues down the line, with further research previously linking excessive screen time to sleeping problems, attention disorders, poor self-image, and spending less time outside.

Whether good or bad, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health notes that one of the main reasons screen time is bad for children is that when there’s too much of it, it takes time away from other positive activities, including exercise, social interaction, and regular sleep. That’s why for this article we’ll be focusing on five different ways you can reset and rebalance your child(ren)’s relationship with screens.

1.    Set time limits

This sounds simple but can be more difficult in practice, as all parents understand the trial of trying to separate kids from screens when they don’t want to stop watching, especially since those screens are often portable.

According to YouGov, around 88% of kids in the UK have their own smartphone by the age of 12. For tablets, this age can be even younger, with 85% of six-year-olds having access to one at home.

With children’s use of technology so prevalent, many of these come with the built-in ability to limit the amount of time spent on certain apps. These include Screen Time for IOS, Family Link for Google, and Family Safety for Microsoft devices. Other apps can also allow you to monitor and limit what content your children can watch.

If you choose to restrict screen time this way, it’s best to talk to your children first in a way that’s appropriate for their age. Explain to them why spending less time on a screen is healthy and gradually reduce the time allowance rather than all at once. It will help avoid a lot of arguments.

2.    Have a technology-free zone

Like setting time limits, this tip is once more about creating clear boundaries when it comes to screen time. Between phones, tablets, TVs, and smart home centres, screens can seem like an almost inescapable part of our everyday lives.

Choose a space in your house, whether that’s the dining room, a playroom, or even just a specific area to become a tech-free zone. You can do this all day or set a time for when that room has no screens on, e.g. no TV before dinner. It can help break the urge to reach for a screen or the habit of carrying them around the house.

3.    Start a hobby

Starting a hobby doesn’t need to be something expensive or require a lot of commitment; reading, board games, and baking are just a few ideas to get some quality time away from screens.

For younger kids, messy play activities such as painting and crafts are a great way to boost their development. Through this, they’ll be able to explore new tools, textures, and techniques – things that are much more difficult to learn through a screen.

This also gives you the opportunity to join in and spend some active time with your kids and even helps you to get away from screens yourself!

4.    Go outdoors

Another obvious one, but spending quality time outdoors can not only be great for exercise, but it can also improve mental health for kids and help them sleep better at night. If you have the time, it’s worth building this into a family event where you all go for a walk or play a game together in the garden.

Sometimes a rainy day can stop you from leaving the house, especially with the UK’s unpredictable weather, and that’s okay from time to time. But you needn’t let a little rain or drizzle stop you from exploring altogether – just make sure you’re prepared for all the muddy adventures with girls’ and boys’ waterproof jackets, wellies, and waders!

5.    Avoid using screens for background noise

Even in the background, noise from a TV or other screen can be incredibly distracting for children and draw their attention away from other activities.

Making screen time more active and purposeful will help kids to feel more engaged in what they’re watching and less of a passive viewer. And as a parent, it gives you more control over what your child is watching.

Doing this also helps to reinforce the idea that screen time is a privilege rather than a right, creating an environment where kids have greater respect for their technology.

Overall, creating a healthier relationship with screens can have many benefits not just for your children but for the family as a whole. The techniques listed above are just some of the ways you can achieve this and bring an end to screen dependability in your home.

What’s just as important, however, is to not frame this as a punishment. Try to explain to children clearly why you’re limiting their screen time, not just that you’re being a meanie and stopping them from watching their favourite show or playing their favourite game.

And if you’re making rules for them, make sure you’re sticking to them too! Work as a family to regulate your screen time, get into better habits, and reset your relationship with screens.