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Building Healthy Screen Use for Children aged 4-11

As I explained in my earlier blogs on the topic, one of the most common concerns I encounter as a parenting coach revolves around the topic of screen time. Today I want to dive in to the balancing act that is handling screen use for our 4-11s.

(Part one of the series, the overview, is here, and screens for under 4s is here).

Understanding the Role of Screens

playing computer games with grandpa

With the rise of digital learning tools and entertainment options, it's crucial to establish healthy habits that promote well-being and development. In today's world, screens are part of our everyday lives. They offer valuable educational content and enjoyable entertainment, but they shouldn't replace physical activity and face-to-face interactions. The goal is to integrate screens into your child's life in a way that supports their overall growth. My coaching style is based on Positive Discipline, which is all about being both kind AND firm. What that looks like in daily life is that, the parent/caregiver will be establishing a framework, and within that, we give our children choices.

Have a Screen Usage Agreement with your 4-11 year old

So, step 1 is for you, as the adult, to decide on the amount of time per day/week of screen time that your child will have. With younger children, you are going to make that decision by yourself, and with older ones, you can involve them in the discussion (are there days when they'd like more or less screen time, because they have after school activities/it's the weekend, etc. ) Your goal is to create a screen agreement that works for everyone. Things to consider in the agreement are:

Create a Schedule: A consistent daily routine helps balance screen time with other important activities. Ensure your child has time for homework, reading, outdoor play, and family interactions. You might want to encourage your child to create a visual schedule that they can then use independently (visual schedules are great for kids of all ages.

Encourage Thoughtful Content: Not all screen time is created equal! Is your child going to be using the screen for something social, educational, passive, creative or interactive? You may want your screen agreement to define different types of screen time. Want to know more about the different types? Read here for an explanation, or here for the research.

Promote Interactive Screen Time: Encourage activities that require interaction rather than passive watching. Look for apps and games that stimulate problem-solving and creativity, such as coding games or digital art programmes. This type of screen use can be more beneficial and engaging. Engage with your child while they are using a screen, rather than just leaving them on their device by themselves.

Set Screen-Free Times: Designate specific times of day as screen-free, such as during meals and at least one hour before bedtime. This helps establish routines that prioritise family interaction and ensure better sleep hygiene.

Discuss Online Safety: It's never too early to start conversations about online safety. Teach your children about the importance of privacy, being respectful online, and what to do if they encounter something uncomfortable. Resources from Childnet can be very helpful in guiding these discussions.

Fostering Offline Interests

It's essential to encourage hobbies and activities that don’t involve screens. Here are some ideas, although I'm sure you have plenty of your own!

Sports and Physical Activities: Enrol your child in sports clubs or encourage regular outdoor play. Physical activity is crucial for their health and helps burn off energy.

Arts and Crafts: Provide materials for drawing, painting, and crafting. These activities enhance creativity and fine motor skills.

Reading: Cultivate a love for reading by setting aside quiet time for books. Visiting the local library can be a fun outing and a great way to discover new stories.

Family Time: Engage in board games, cooking together, or family outings. These activities strengthen family bonds and provide enriching experiences.

Tips for Parents

Model Healthy Behaviour: Children learn by watching their parents. Demonstrate balanced screen use in your own life by limiting your screen time and being present during family interactions.

Be Consistent: Consistency is key to establishing good habits. Stick to the routines and rules you set, even if it’s challenging at times. Use an app like Qustodio to manage screen use - that way the app is the one that turns the device off, not the parent. It's harder to argue with an app!!

Positive Reinforcement: Take time to notice when your child manages to stick to the screen time agreement - and point it out to them. Positive reinforcement encourages them to continue these behaviours.

Final Thoughts

Once you've thought through all of these issues, it's time to write up a screen agreement, with your child. And then you all sign it. This is going to help you all to evaluate how you are doing, and where you need to make changes. Coming up with a solution that's right for your family isn't easy, and it's going to take a few attempts. Be kind to yourselves as you start this new way of managing screen time together.

By creating a structured routine, encouraging educational and active screen use, and fostering offline interests, you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with screens. Remember, moderation and mindful usage are key. By setting a good example and maintaining open communication, you can guide your child towards balanced and enriching screen habits.

Implementing these strategies will not only benefit your child's development but also enhance your family's overall well-being. Happy parenting!

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