Managing children’s time watching television, playing games, using Facebook or social media, or texting friends is becoming a big problem. So here are a few tips to help.

1. Understand WHY you’re limiting screen time. Sometimes it’s easier to stick to the rules when you know why it’s important. Playing computer games can have some benefits, such as hand-eye coordination, problem-solving skills, and quick thinking. However excessive screen time has been linked to problems such as screen addictions, poor sleep, difficulty with social interactions, problems dealing with conflict, poor concentration at school, decreased health and fitness, risk of obesity, lack of self-control and an increase in rude, argumentative or aggressive behaviour.

2. Decide the rules you want. Do you want…?

• No more than one (or two) hours a day playing computer games or watching TV, texting friends or on Facebook / social media.
• Children have to be completely ready for school before watching TV or playing on the iPad.
• No TV or mobiles in the room when we’re eating together as a family.
• No mobiles or tablets on family outings.
• No TV or computer games until after homework is finished.
• No screens on Monday, Wednesdays or Fridays. (Record any TV programmes you need to)
• No screens between 4 and 6 pm.
• I’ll give you a 5-minute warning, but if there’s a fuss turning off the game then there will be NO screen time the following day. A big fuss earns a two-day ban.
• All mobiles and tablets are to be left charging downstairs overnight. (This is an important one!) If you forget, there’s a one-day ban.

3. Get the family together to discuss and agree on the rules. There is a saying, ‘no involvement, no commitment.’ Children need to be involved in discussing and agreeing on the rules. But remember screen time is addictive. You may need to be prepared to be unpopular if you feel a rule is particularly important. If these are family rules, then it applies to the adults as well so you can set an example.

4. Follow through and be consistent. When you first introduce the rules, your child may find it hard to stick to them. A kitchen timer is great to give your child because it saves you nagging. If your child struggles to turn the computer off, you may need to set a timer on your mobile. When it rings, go to your child, say “time’s up,” and stand there until they turn off the computer and start doing something else. The more your child gets used to the rule, the better they will be at following it. But you must be firm and consistent.

5. Help your child find other things to do. It could be: practising a skill; playing a board game or card games; reading books, magazines or comics; doing puzzles; imaginative play; Lego; following an interest or hobby; spending time outdoors, or even chatting with you. Make a long list and put it up somewhere so your child can check it when they can’t think of something else to do.

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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