My parents tried to limit the time I spent watching TV when I was young. It wasn’t easy for them. Now screens are everywhere and the battle to minimize time spent on them has become even more difficult.
We can’t control the fact that screens are here to stay, but we can help our children better navigate a screen-filled world. The most important thing to remember is the importance to children of face-to-face interaction, which is how they build their social skills, creativity, self-awareness, resilience and emotional intelligence and develop into well-formed humans.
Here are some steps to take to build a solid foundation that will help your child:
Set boundaries: Limit screen interaction for the young ones. According to the WHO, children younger than two should not spend any time on screen except for video chatting with family. For children aged between two and five, the limit is 60 minutes of screen time per day. For older children and teens, the American Academy of Pediatrics set the limit at two hours a day. Those numbers don’t include children’s school work. Turn off devices during meals and two hours before bed. Create screen free zones around this house, particularly the bedroom.
Monitor use: Block any inappropriate content and do watch the games your children play. Try out the games yourself. Keep all electronics and media devices in a public place in your house. Do talk to other parents about their children’s use of technology. Monitoring the use of screens in your house will help you get a better idea of what is popular in your child’s world. This should help you limit their exposure to any inappropriate content.
Be clear: Specify what is and is not acceptable regarding screen rules in the house and stick to it. Don’t let media interfere with family relationships and create a disconnect in family communication.
Engage and lead by example: Set the rules and follow them yourself. Remember that your child is watching you. If you are not following your own rules the child will feel that the rules apply only to them and will rebel against what he or she perceives as unfairness. The essence of parenting is leading by example.
Technology as a tool: Content is key, so as well as setting time limits it’s important to focus on the quality of the content your child is interacting with. Use technology as a tool for learning, exploring and creating. Look for media that is engaging and interactive and includes positive interaction with others.
Share your experience: Ask your children questions about their screen time. Talk about what they are doing, what they have learned and ask how they feel when they use their devices and when they turn them off. Offer suggestions about how to switch off from screen time.
Be a media mentor: Young children need trusted adults to help them navigate through the digital age. Keep up to date with their world and help them navigate through technology safely.
Any action you take to help your children manage their screen time from a young age will set the right foundation for them as they grow. Always remember that technology should be used in a way that supports positive social interaction, mindfulness, creativity and education.
Dr. Nura Arabi is a physical education teacher in Abu Dhabi with a health promotion background who advocates for parents and children to have a healthier lifestyle. Her current research is about E-learning and child psychology. Through radio appearances, her profession and writing, she wants to change the world of children’s health one healthy tip at a time.