Pacifiers aren’t just for babies nowadays. It seems like every kiddo I see in the clinic, out to eat, at church or just about anywhere else is glued to an iPacifier. iPhones, iPads, iAnything have invaded our young children’s hands from morning until night.
When I started this post, I wrote a long rant about how sad it is that kids are watching or using iDevices in the car, at school, at home, and on play dates. I deleted my rant; I felt too guilty.
We try hard to keep our kids off screens as much as possible. We have agreed to no iPads or iPhone for our toddlers. We know they’ll be on screens for most of their teen and adult lives.
With that all said, we do turn to our iPacifiers more than we should. It’s so easy (in fact, too easy – thus the problem!) to get a child to be quiet when they are glued to a game or movie. I gave Walt my phone at Easter Brunch to watch Thomas The Train because he was throwing a fit while waiting for our server to bring his meal. I turn on a movie and nap on the couch with our early riser when she wakes me up on Saturday mornings.
It’s tough to be a parent to young kids. Society expects toddlers to be quiet. There is a lot of pressure on parents to keep your children quiet at any cost – including expensive digital babysitters. I totally understand. I’m not going to tell you to lock-up the iPads, cancel your Netflix subscription, or go “off the grid” if you want to raise good kids. You can be a great parent by using screen time to enrich your child’s day.
Here’s five ways to make it happen:
Pick a discrete amount of time and tell your child how much time they get. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under 2 years old and two hours of total screen time (including television, video games, iPad time, etc.) per day for kids 2 and older. Figure out in advance how you will divide up the time (and remember the less screen time, the better!). Tell your toddler, “You get to watch one show now, and one after dinner and that is all”. Before the show ends, remind them “OK, when this is over in two minutes we are going to turn the TV off and play with our dolls”. For apps or computer time, use a timer. The earlier you start setting discrete limits, the easier it will be for good habits to develop!
Spend screen time with your child. I know screen time is a great chance to do the dishes, catch up on emails, or just have a parenting “time-out” but try spending at least half the screen time with your child. Make it educational by asking them questions about what they see, why someone did something, or just making your own commentary about how silly a character is. Engage your child while they watch a show and you might find that there are some shows that you may even enjoy watching (Thomas the Train = the bomb. Caillou = whiny wimp. His show always happen to be “broken” at our house!)
Find educational screen time. There are so many great, educational shows out there these days. I can’t think of any PBS shows that don’t teach, offer good values, or give kids a million new things to think and learn about. Common Sense Media is an amazing resource for quality shows, movies, and apps for kids. They have sections on first movies for kids, great apps for learning, good video game choices, and so much more. If you find something new, preview it or find out what it’s about before your child sees it.
Don’t be too hard on your child or yourself. Toddlerhood is (relatively) tough. Sometimes a extra few minutes of a show is enough to make the time after the screen even better. Our kids are pretty zonked after nap time, and a little PBS helps bridge them back to being wild and crazy. On the flip side, don’t beat yourself up if you take extra advantage of screen time on occasion. If the witching hour has already started and dinner isn’t in the oven, it’s OK to use a little screen time to help out! Just do something extra special (like extra-long story time, a walk to the park, etc.) after things have calmed down.
Set a good example with your screen time. If you’re checking your phone every 5 minutes, texting at the dinner table, or on social media at your child’s piano recital – how do you think your child will feel about their ranking on your list of priorities? It’s tough – nowadays, everyone is expected to be available at a moment’s notice. You can’t ignore important emails from work or pretend you didn’t catch a text your boss sent you. What you can do, though, is set a good example for responsible screen use. Don’t bring iDevices to the dinner table. Show your children that they are the priority by putting away your phone during family time. If you need to respond to an email after dinner , tell your child how long it will take and what you are going to do when you’re done: “This will take three minutes and then let’s go for a bike ride!”
In the comments section below, please share your tips and tricks for how to use screen time for good!
Dr. Phil Boucher is a pediatrics resident physician in Omaha. He is married and has two children. He blogs at www.thedoctordad.com and frequently tweets about pediatrics & parenting topics at @Phil_BoucherMD You can read him here on momaha.com
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