Monday, April 28, 2014

Limit Screen Time

For more on screen time and how to find a balance that works for your family, check out the new ebook, “Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens (Yikes! So Am I.)” by Jane Nelsen and Kelly Bartlett.

Children are now faced with increasingly more options for screened entertainment, leaving families disconnected and disengaged. Learn Positive Discipline tools that will help you and your children connect more with each other and find a balance in your family's media use.
There was once a segment on Oprah in which families where challenged to give up electronics for a week, including TV. It was interesting to watch how difficult it was for parents, as well as their children, to give up all of their screens. One scene was particularly difficult to watch. A five-year-old boy could hardly stand it to give up playing video games. His temper tantrums were quite dramatic. His mother shared that she was embarrassed when she realized he had been playing video games for five hours a day. The good news was that after the whole family went through “media withdrawal,” they discovered how to replace screen time with family activities that increased their family closeness and enjoyment. Take a look at this video from the Today Show about one family who gave up all screens for six months.

Would it surprise you to know that 2-5-year-olds watch more than 32 hours of TV a week? (Nielsen) Children ages 8-18 spend more than 53 hours a week online and almost 8 hours of media use each day. (Keiser Family Foundation) In today’s digital world, families are exposed to more screen time than ever before. Smartphones, tablets, YouTube and the ever-popular game, Minecraft are just a few of the many sources of electronic connection that vie for time and attention from both parents and children.

But what does this mean? Is it good? After all, aren’t children who grow up using electronic media learning skills that will keep them connected and current in in a technologically driven world? Or is too much technology a bad thing? Does it prevent kids from learning important interpersonal skills like live conversations and social graces?

There is research that demonstrates how the brain develops differently with excessive screen time, so it is true that screen time does affect a child’s development. But my guess is that you don’t need research to know that your children are on their screens too much each day; you know this from your own wisdom and intuition. Maybe you’re not sure what to do about it, or you’ve avoided doing something about it because…
  1. You don’t like to admit that it is nice to have your children so easily entertained so you can have some time to yourself.
  2. It involves such a power struggle to get the kids to disconnect from their devices. It is easier to just let it go.
  3. You don’t realize that screen time is addictive.
  4. You justify it with the benefits technology brings: “Look at all the skills my child is learning.”
The key lies in finding a balance. Yes, kids are keeping up with technology and learning new skills that will help them if their lives. And yes, too much media use does prevent them from becoming proficient in person-to-person communication skills. What you can do to help your kids find that balance of screen time with “real life” is to work together to set limits around daily media use…including your own.

Try these Positive Discipline tools to help manage your family’s screen time so it doesn’t manage you:
  1. Have a family meeting. Get the whole family involved in a plan for reducing screen time. Part of the solutions should include things to do in place of screen time. It is more difficult to give something up when you don’t have plans for what else to do.
  2. Create a “parking lot” for electronics—have a basket or charging station in a central location in the house at which family members “park” their electronics during certain times of day.
  3. Establish new routines. Start with one time of day to be screen free (such as dinner) and periodically add on other times of day.
  4. Stay close with your child with special time. Children will listen to your limits about screen time when they feel understood and that you “get” them. Spend regular one-on-one time together to keep your relationship strong.
  5. Hold limits with kindness and firmness. Changing a screen time habit is hard; be ready for disappointment, anger, and sad feelings. Hold your limits by empathizing with a child’s feelings and sticking with the limit you’ve set.


Anonymous said...

My 13 year old son with Asperger's is very addicted to the screen in general. He plays a certain game on the computer and even has his own server. We even included more screen time if he went to exercise with me once per week. Bad idea on my part, since I never follow through to take him to the gym. I am convinced that too much screen time is bad for him. But, I am honestly afraid of the fallout, or "withdrawal" period. His withdrawal may or may not be more disruptive to our family because of his Asperger's. Although, I'm guessing any kid so addicted would have a similar reaction to him. Is it a good idea to offer a replacement desirable privilege. I can't imagine what it would be for him, however. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I saw your comment and wanted to find out a little more info. I have a daughter with Asperger's and I know how important screen time can be to these kids. How much time per day is your son in front of a screen? What does he do when he is not allowed to be on a computer or watching TV, etc? Is he verbally communicative? I know that there are so many different levels of functioning, and it seems to me that this could make a difference in your family's approach to screen time...but I think that there are certainly some alternatives if you feel that he is on the computer too much. Hope to hear back from you : ) Oh, by the way, does he have any other focuses...animals, cars, buildings, sports? And what is the game about that he loves to play so there something that can be taken from that as a clue to some activity that he might engage in with you?
Take care,
Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kendra, for your response. The game is Minecraft. He has online "friends" with whom he plays and "chats" while he plays. Most of them happen to live in our town, as they are friends with his only friend, a girl of the same age. He has never met them in person, though. My son goes to an online school, so he spends 6 hours per day on the computer (mostly) for that. Then, 3-4 more on the computer for Minecraft. Right now, his area of focus IS Minecraft, but it has been guinea pigs, as he has two. He is also starting horse therapy, which is once per week for an hour. If "forced" to do an outside the house activity, he gets out. Otherwise, he'd rather stay home and play the computer. He's thinking about going to a "normal" school next year, though, where he would have built in friends ~ the ones with whom he plays Minecraft. We're considering it, although the online school has been very beneficial with his stress level.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is 13 also, and horses have been incredible for her. We live in the country, and she has been riding on and off since she was 5. She has trouble relating to humans sometimes, especially her own age, and we found a wonderful trainer who studied with the horse whisperer - and it has been such a gift. Hope your son connects with horses too. My daughter also does school at home on the computer - she was just getting lost at public school. It does sound like your son is on the computer a lot, but with his schooling it is understandable. Also sounds like the game is providing some social skills? My daughter likes SIMS, and sometimes I sit with her and we discuss her family's interactions, etc. I try to use it as a tool. My daughter gets one hour a day Monday - Friday, and two hours a day on the weekend if all school and chores are done. Maybe he could earn "fun" screen time by doing outside activities, horse therapy, walk in the park, etc? We've had good luck with that when we felt that things were getting out of balance. Asperger's is challenging sometimes isn't it : ) You sound like a great mom! Don't think I was much help...sorry.

Kim Peterson, MA, LPC said...

I'm 100 percent with you on this!!

Anonymous said...

Kendra, thank you again. You were a lot of help. You made me think about this even more. It's nice to know that someone with a child with Asperger's is using Positive Discipline as well. I also have a son with Bipolar who just hit the son with Asperger's in the face with a remote yesterday. I'm never sure how to deal with that without a consequence, per se. That's not related to this blog post, though. On topic, I think if we go back to 2 hours of computer time during the week and he can earn more with chores and out of the home activities and exercise, that might work. Great idea. Thanks. I'm going to check out your blog. I have a blog, too. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Glad to be of help. I think fighting between siblings is so hard on the always has been a hot button for me. Even though my brother and I fought verbally and sometimes physically when we were growing up, and are now very close - when I see my kids doing this it sets me off. Both of my kids are considered "special needs", one with the Asperger's and one with Tourette's & OCD, and I know this can sometimes add to the problems...but honestly, the longer I'm alive the more I believe that we are all "special needs" in one way or another...
I have a bad tendency to take one kids side over the other, different kids at different times, and I have found the PD tool "Putting kids in the same boat" to be very helpful with this. Positive Time outs have also been great, for me as well as them, and then after we cool down we can process what they were feeling before the fight, how to recognize when they are about to get physical, brainstorm alternatives, etc. There are just so many tools in Positive Discipline, and I have found that they are effective whether or not a child has special needs. If you don't already have the Positive Discipline A-Z book, it is great, and makes looking up ideas and solutions very easy. I love mine!
By the way, I read your blog, and I hope you'll keep up the writing : ) Very heartfelt...

Unknown said...

We found a great way to ween our kids off tv. Children's audiobooks. It's not as good as reading, but it's a great half-step and it's way more engaging than staring at the idiot box. We download them for free at

Anonymous said...

This sounds great and i have noticed my girls have too much screen time. I have a 3 and 8 year old. Im a stay at home mom and must admit, i use the tv as a babysitter to get housework done. My question is does anyone have suggestions on activities that both my children can do at their age levels and not get bored? I have a hard time finding things that my 8 yo finds entertaining and fun and hard time finding things my 3 yo can do or understand how to do. Oldest finds a lot of them too babyish. Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

I've been reading a lot of articles about'limiting screen time' I agree with it. I do allow my child to watch some kids shows but I don't want her just sitting in front of the TV watching whatever pops up next.

I found a website( lets me make 'playlists' of shows for her based on what she likes and weed out the shows I don't want her watching. Even better, they have an app that i downloaded for free and I have that on my ipad for long road trips.