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How to Curb Your Child's Screen Time Without Fights

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 07, 2021

Chances are, your home is full of screens, from the TV to phones, tablets, and game systems. It can be difficult to reduce screen time when technology is so available to your children, but it is possible.

Downside to Screen Time

Before the age of 2, your child doesn’t benefit from screen time. Research shows that infants and toddlers learn more from face-to-face interaction and unstructured playtime. After your child turns 2, they begin to benefit from structured screen time for learning.‌

As a parent, you should always be present to help your child understand what they watch on a screen. Passive or unsupervised screen time is not a replacement for learning through reading and playing. Children who spend more time on screens are at a higher risk for:

  • Obesity
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fewer social skills‌
  • Violence and anger problems

Screen Time Guidelines

The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines screen time recommendations for parents. Children under 2 years old do not need screen time. The exception to this rule is using video chat to talk to a parent or loved one.‌

Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should not have more than 1 hour of screen time per day. The screen time they do get should be learning-focused instead of passive. Even through the teenage years, screen time shouldn’t exceed 2 hours per day for the best health outcomes.‌

Quality of screen time. It’s up to you to decide how much screen time your child has each day. What they watch is just as important as how much screen time they have. You can ensure your child has high-quality screen time by:

  • Previewing shows, movies, and games before letting your child watch them
  • Being present during screen time to monitor your child’s use
  • Choosing interactive options like learning games instead of movies and shows
  • Using parental controls to block potentially harmful content
  • Choosing age-appropriate content‌
  • Eliminating games and shows that have advertisements‌

Teach proper use. As your child gets older, you can teach them how to use technology correctly. Show them how to turn off the TV if something comes on that they shouldn’t watch. Teach them how to move between activities on a tablet or phone. Encourage your child to handle their screens carefully, so they don’t break.

Limiting Screen Time Without a Fight

If your child gets a lot of unstructured screen time, cutting back can be difficult. These tips can help you reduce screens without a fight by taking it slowly and prioritizing other fun activities.‌

Avoid saying no. If your child asks to watch TV or play on a tablet, don’t tell them no. This can trigger a fight if your child feels like they aren’t getting what they want. Instead, use phrases like:

  • We can watch your favorite movie later. Right now, let’s play. 
  • Game time is later. Let’s do this instead. 
  • You already watched TV today. Let’s have lunch and talk about what else we want to do.‌
  • It’s time to pause your game for dinner. You can play more again tomorrow. ‌

Offer a distraction. If you tend to keep the TV on for background noise, stop doing that. Turn off movies and TV shows and allow your child to play freely. If they want to watch a certain show or movie, encourage them to play with similar toys or act out the show instead.‌

You can sit with your child and ask them questions or show them how to turn household objects into imaginary toys. For example, a laundry basket makes a great cave. A cardboard box can easily become a house or fort.‌

After helping to initiate playtime, you can supervise while you complete other things around your house if needed. By redirecting your child to new activities, you provide a distraction from usual screen time.

Set times for screens. You can introduce certain times of day for screens. You might begin by turning screens off during meals and an hour before bedtime. Once you establish a routine, slowly introduce new screen rules.‌

You can say that there are no screens for the first hour you’re home from school and work. You can outline activities your child has to complete to earn screen time. This may include doing homework, reading, and playing outside.‌

Remove screens at night. As your children get older, they may feel tempted to sneak screen time at night. Remove all phones, tablets, and game systems from your child’s room at bedtime. Plug charging cables in a common area where you can monitor use.‌

Out of sight. Store screens where they aren’t always visible. If your child doesn’t see their tablet, phone, or game system, they may be less likely to want to play. Put screens in a drawer or cabinet for safekeeping every day.‌

Set clear rules. Let your child know what the dos and don’ts of screen time are for your home. Each rule should have a consequence. For example, playing a game or watching a show that isn’t allowed may mean that your child can’t have their screen again for 2 days. Set a timer to signal the end of screen time. If your child plays a game longer than allowed, they might lose screen time for the next day.‌

Set a good example. You can help by following your own screen rules. Put your phone away during family and mealtimes. Turn off the TV before bedtime and record your favorite shows to watch at a later time. Make screen time limits a team effort and encourage your child to keep you accountable, too.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

APA: “What do we really know about kids and screens?”

Mayo Clinic: “Screen time and children: How to guide your child.”

Sanford Health: “10 Ways to Minimize Screen Time.”

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