“It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” The question, a public service announcement, was first asked on a nightly news program in 1969. Back then, it was a call to parents to make sure their kids were safely back inside for the night. Today, the question seems irrelevant. A staggering amount of kids are inside spending their time in front of a screen.

The statistics are a bit alarming. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization researching the impact of media and technology on the lives of kids and families, reports that American teens average a whopping nine hours of entertainment media use each day (not counting time in school), and American tweens (8-12-year-olds) average about six hours.

So much screen time takes a toll on kids and teens. When kids spend hours per day sitting in front of some type of screen, their physical and mental health suffers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, excessive media use is associated with

  • Aggression and other behavior problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Obesity
  • Reduced energy and drive
  • Decreased school performance
  • Cyberbullying and other risky online behaviors

Based on the potential harm that can come from prolonged daily digital device use, the AAP recommends that kids and teens spend no more than two hours a day using devices; the younger the child, the shorter the time should be.

A new PSA might be in order: Do you know how much screen time your children have had today? Perhaps beyond a PSA, parents and kids need to band together and develop no screen time timers and plans. What would limiting your kids’ electronics use mean for you and your family?

Creating your vision of a family that isn’t swallowed up by screens or mesmerized by media is not only possible, but it’s also within your reach right now. Going about it intentionally, with the right mindset, is essential. Let’s look at some information, guidelines, tips, and tools to transform screen time into no screen time for kids.

No screen time timers for kids are a great way to accomplish this. However, just setting a timer and telling kids to turn off their devices or the television when the timer sounds don’t work. The timer is a great reminder, but for it to be effective, you need a proper plan and reasons for your plan.

Not All Screen Time is Equal: Quantity vs. Quality

Before sitting down as a family to create a plan for screen use, consider what, exactly, you’d like to limit. According to Common Sense Media, the quality of what kids are doing is even more important than the quantity of time they’re spending with their devices, and the organization clarifies the types of activities people can do on devices:

“Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music

Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet

Communication: video-chatting and using social media

Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music.”

Kids can do many different things when they’re in front of screens. Engaging in positive ways doesn’t produce the same adverse outcomes as passively watching or gaming. Knowing what your kids do with their device time and what, exactly, you want to limit, will help get your kids onboard with having parameters.

Consider the different types of screen limits you and your family could adopt:

  • Content: what your family members watch and do
  • Type: what kinds of screens, what devices, kids are using
  • Time: The number of hours spent on devices

You can create limits in one or more of these areas to help keep your kids more engaged in the real world than they are in the digital world. The following guidelines can help you set—and keep—limits.

No Screen Time Guidelines

The best way to create a screen-use policy that everyone will willingly follow is to keep it positive. To do that, it’s necessary to shift away from a “restrictions” mind-set and adopt a “replacement” attitude.

Chances are, this really isn’t about you wanting to impose limits just for the sake of restricting your kids’ media use. More than likely, you have a greater purpose. Maybe you want to enhance their health and wellbeing or to bond more as a family. Know why you want to have time limits, and communicate your reasons positively to your kids.

For example, if your child needs to lose weight, telling him that he’s overweight because he does nothing but sit lazily in front of the tv playing video games probably won’t make him cooperative in limiting his electronics time. But getting the family involved with healthy lifestyle activities that require time away from the screen will create change positively. 

Guiding principles in creating limits with your family, then, are

  • Know your purpose
  • Frame your reasons positively
  • Replace screen time with something else that’s enjoyable

With these crucial principles in mind, the following guidelines will increase your chances for success:

Involve everyone in creating a family policy.

Kids will feel less targeted when they have some ownership and decision-making power. Use this as an opportunity to have an open discussion with your kids in which you talk about family values and how they fit into what happens in the digital world.

Planning together is a great chance, too, to listen to your kids. Not only will you remain connected to them as they grow, but you’ll also send them the message that you value their thoughts and feelings.

As a family, decide on daily or weekly time limits for everyone. It’s okay to have different caps for each person based on age, but do make sure that everyone understands the reasons for the differences.   

Adults, you’re members of the family, too. For kids to take your plan seriously and internalize its importance, it’s crucial that you set and follow time limits as well.

Create “No Screen Time” Time Zones, Areas

To prevent screen limits from seeming arbitrary and unfair, decide together what times are necessary to have screens off and put away. Meal times are popular no screen times. To promote quality sleep, it’s a good idea to stop using electronics at least one hour before bedtime.

Consider having device-free spaces in your home as well. It’s easier to enforce time limits if there are places to go without temptation staring everyone in the face. Keeping televisions and other electronic media out of bedrooms is a healthy idea. Bedrooms become zones for relaxing, soothing the brain, and sleeping. Are there other places where people can be electronic-free?

Make Play a Priority

Creating a family no screen time policy is about more than just taking something away. It’s about replacing the electronic world with something fun and enjoyable in the real world. The Mayo Clinic emphasizes the importance of “unplugged, unstructured play time.”

A key concept to explore with your family when you are creating your media use plan is what they want to do instead of screens. The answers will vary by age and personality, but some things that people commonly replace video games and television include

  • Board or card games
  • Arts and crafts projects
  • Cooking or baking
  • Using a basketball hoop outside
  • Yard games
  • A trip to the bowling alley, mini golf course, etc.
  • Reading
  • Geocaching
  • Unstructured play time with agemates

Let everyone in your family suggest ideas, and then gather supplies to have on hand so it’s easy to replace electronic devices with other fun activities.

Keeping your activity list handy helps ensure success. Transition times, the period of switching gears between one thing and the next, can be tricky. When your child has to switch off his game or put down his phone, he might be prone to complain. Cries of “I’m bored,” or “There’s nothing to do” can be answered with the list. There in front of him are ideas that he helped develop. 

No Screen Time Tools

You’ve got your plan. Now you need to get your kids off their devices. Thankfully, there are many different types of no screen time timers for kids, tools to use to help your kids remember to turn it off and have some unplugged play.

These suggestions can help remind kids when they’ve reached their time limit:

  • Many different timers for kids are available. Let each child choose his/her own timer and be in charge of setting it to alert them when their screen time is up.
  • Most phones and tablets have built-in timers that kids can set.
  • Some apps have in-app timers that turn the app off after a set time.
  • Parental control apps, such as Google Parental Controls, allow you to set the limits for your kids (useful for younger kids).

Experiment to see which no screen time timer for kids works best for you and your own family. In general, those timers that give older kids the most autonomy over the process are the most effective. Keep in mind your own children’s ages and personalities as you choose your timer methods as a family.

Limiting digital device and electronics use is more about adding than it is about taking away. It’s about adding decision-making and self-regulation skills to your child’s growing repertoire of abilities. It’s adding time for family togetherness. Limiting screen time is about replacing something unhealthy with activities that are healthy.

Screen time regulation is also about balance. It’s okay for kids to enjoy their digital life. They just shouldn’t get lost in it. Your family screen plan and your no screen time timers for kids allow your children to develop this balance.

Visit the AAP’s HealthyChildren.org for an online Family Media Use Plan.

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