4-Step Guide to Controlling Screen Time
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4-Step Guide to Controlling Screen Time

If you’re one of the many parents who feel like you’ve lost control of screen time, get back on track with these simple steps

If you’re one of the many parents who feel like you’ve lost control of screen time, get back on track with these simple steps.

When you look down at your watch and realize the work day has finally ended, your second job is only just beginning—parenthood. It’s the best job on earth, but it’s also the toughest sometimes. And if you’re still working from home with the kids both jobs require your attention and energy from sun up to sun down.

After a full day of work, how are you supposed to make dinner while the kids are running rampant under your feet? TV to the rescue. When you and your partner need to talk budget, but the kids don’t need to hear it? Hello, iPads and headphones. When a pandemic hits and no one can leave the house? Extra screen time was unavoidable.

Real talk: screen time management is hard

2020 really took the screen time challenge to another level. Thanks to coronavirus, families were confined to their homes. Parents still had to get their work done; kids still needed to keep up with their school work, and both of those things required screens. In the first weeks of March, 2020 there was an 18 percent increase in data usage in-home compared to the same period in 2019.

The truth is, even when a pandemic isn’t happening, screen time isn’t easy to avoid. It’s the ultimate babysitter for all ages. And what would we do without those babysitters?!! You shouldn’t feel guilty for doing what you need to do as a parent, and that includes a healthy amount of screen time. That said, research says too much screen time for kids (and adults) can have lasting, negative effects on mental and physical health. A balance between screen time and other entertainment is key.

Part of the 2020 recovery process is re-thinking how to approach screen time management. According to a survey completed in August of 2020, 63 percent of parents in the U.S. lowered their standards for what they deem as appropriate screen time for their kids because of the pandemic. Tack onto that, 64 percent of parents we polled said their kids are noticeably more irritable after spending most or all of the day on screens. If you’re one of these parents looking to scale back the screen time, we’re here to share what we know. These steps will help your family make a plan and stick to it.

Step 1: Assess how much screen time is already happening

70 percent of parents say they wish they could better monitor screen time, so you’re not alone. It’s nearly impossible to keep tabs on every family members’ screen time without the help of some sort of Internet monitoring or parental controls.

In order to establish healthy limits on kids’ Internet access, parents first need a comprehensive picture of where time is being spent. From there, you can track when and which devices, apps, and websites need restrictions with a parental controls tool.

With Circle’s parental controls app, you can monitor each of your family members’ usage and history in real time. If you notice apps like Instagram or TikTok are taking up too much of their free time, you can start to formulate a plan for restrictions on those apps with custom filters.

Step 2: Decide with your partner, how much is too much screen time?

There is no right or wrong answer here. It’s about what works best for your kids in their stages of development. For preschoolers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than an hour of screen time per day. Once kids reach 6 years of age and up, the studies are less conclusive about how much screen time you should allow. The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics simply recommend focusing time elsewhere, and allowing for screen-centric entertainment as a supplement to other activities, like getting outside to play, engaging with interactive games, or being creative with arts and crafts.

And remember, not all screen time is created equal. When screen time IS happening, consider how you could encourage your kids to participate in active screen time rather than passive. That might look like spending more time interacting with (rather than scrolling through) online content like playing educational games or reading digital books that require participation. If you need a few ideas to get you started, check out this list of ways to make learning fun at home.

As parents, the “how much” piece is your call. But once you have that decision made, bring your kids into the conversation to talk through the why behind your decision.

Step 3: Talk to your family about the goal of screen time management

Limiting screen time for kids doesn’t have to be a one-way street. Everyone can keep each other accountable and be a part of establishing a plan that applies to the whole family. If your kids feel like they were an active participant in the conversation, they might be less likely to put up a fight when the time comes to enforce the rules.

Try having an honest conversation with your kids before you lay down the law. Start by explaining the why behind the need for limits on screen time. Your kids will probably appreciate that you are trying to keep them healthy and safe. Plus, once they realize you’re going to abide by the same rules (and you should), maybe it won’t seem so unfair. For added buy-in, you can also ask them to offer up some suggestions! They might see ways for compromise that you wouldn’t have thought of. The more opportunities for collaboration from them, the better.

Step 4: Stick to the plan

Be clear about the expectations for both you AND your kids. As parents, we can all remember back to a time when we were told the adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Right?

When it comes to screen time, that’s probably not the most effective way to motivate kids. Once you, your partner, and your kids have all agreed on a plan, you can start off on the right track by setting the example. At dinner, resist the urge to pick up your phone when you hear an email come in. Work can wait. And they will notice your restraint.

If you’ve all agreed to a family game night that’s phone-free, make it easy for everyone to avoid their phones by setting an Off Time. You can pre-schedule the Internet to shut off on all (or some) devices on that night. When it’s time for bed, make a clean break with any devices that could prevent you and your kids from getting good REM sleep with Circle’s Bedtime feature. Once the lack of screen time starts to feel routine at certain parts of the day, your family won’t even notice they’re gone.

Remember, you can do this

Don’t be too hard on yourself if screen time has become a bigger part of your family routine than it used to be. Last year was hard. We’re all still trying to get back to normal. With the right tools, a little planning, and a newfound commitment to stick to the plan, we know you can do this! Join our email list for more helpful tips, research, and advice on how to manage screen time and be a parent in the digital world.

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