Tantrum-free ways to create healthy screen time habits

It is more important to strive to create a loving and balanced family environment than a perfect one, especially during these trying times.

 Here’s how to regulate how much screen time your child can use each day and what’s appropriate for their age.

With some South African schools closed due to Covid-19, parents do not have many options to keep busy kids entertained. So, it’s only natural for you to allow them to watch more TV or play games.

With so many warnings about the impact of too much screen time on young minds everywhere, should you resist, or give in?

Finding the perfect balance

Dr Iqbal Karbanee, paediatrician and CEO of Paed-IQ Babyline, says the global coronavirus pandemic has placed enormous pressure on parents, and finding balance can be very hard.

“If you are looking after the needs of your child in a supportive and loving environment, and trying your best, even if this includes screen time, then you and your family are doing fine,” he says.

Keep your children safe and healthy

Karbanee adds that parents need to remember that while the health and safety of their children is the parents’ responsibility, boredom is not. “You don’t need to keep your kids constantly entertained throughout the holiday. It’s ok to let children complain about boredom.

Make a few suggestions but allow them to be imaginative. Imagination itself is a source of entertainment with huge benefits for children. Karbanee says there are ways, however, that you can ensure a better balance for your child when it comes to screen time, whether PlayStation, tablet, phone, TV, or any other device.

How to create healthy screen habits

Below are his top tips for parents who want to create lasting and positive screen habits:   

  • Don’t let kids have screen time at least two hours before bedtime. This is because it will interfere with their sleep pattern, which is vital for healthy development. It’s a good idea to keep to a routine during the holidays as far as possible, especially when it comes to a regular bedtime. Try to be consistent in enforcing bedtime.
  • Ensure your child takes regular breaks from the screen, especially where there is continual stimulation, whether through PlayStation, HouseParty, Google Hangout, or any other application. A 30 to 40-minute break is recommended. Older children and teenagers tend to play online for extended periods. Make an agreement that some form of physical activity will be interspersed with the screen time.
  • Pay attention to what your kids are consuming. Make sure you have rules when it comes to what content they are allowed to watch, and what they are not allowed to access. There should also be clear consequences for children who do not follow the rules. This is also relevant if there are different-aged children in the home; younger kids should of course not be exposed to inappropriate content. Parents should familiarise themselves with parental control settings on all electronic devices.
  • Try to limit the number of devices your child has access to at any given time. For example, don’t let them play on a phone or tablet if the TV is on at the same time. Rather turn the TV off while they are on another device. This will help them stay focused on one activity, rather than being overstimulated from multiple sources.
  • Have clear rules around when screen time is off-limits, for example, at family functions, or at the dinner table. Children often don’t know that they are full if they eat in front of the screen, and will continue to consume. By teaching them to not be around a device while eating, you will be teaching them the value of connection as well as listening to their body.
  • Lead by example. If children see the parent on the phone continually, including during family time, they will follow that example. Rules are for everyone!