There’s no question that many parents are relying on screen time a little bit more these days. I believe fully that everything is OK in moderation, but even with that being said, I do worry about parking my kids in front of the television for extended periods of time.
After taking some time to observe my kids (twin toddlers) and their screentime, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that quality plays a big role here and might be just as important as quantity when it comes to screen time–basically not every screen is created equally.
Here are the five ways we’re managing the extra screen time use in our house right now.
1. Watch Together
While of course there are times I need to use screen time to send off a quick email or finish up a chore, most of the time when my kids are watching television or using an app, I’m watching with them. Not only does joint media engagement make me more aware as a parent of the messages and programming they’re consuming, but it gives me a chance to make it a family experience.
I use screen time to interact with them just as I would another medium, like a book or art. That means we’re often chatting about what’s on the screen. For younger kids that might be identifying a shape, color, or animal. For older kids who are able to watch programming with an actual plot, you can take some time to talk about characters, emotions, and of course, the topic of whatever you’re watching.
Just as you would discuss what you’re watching with a friend or spouse, the same opportunity exists with your kids.
2. Make Screen Time a Physical Experience
There are endless possibilities when it comes to making screen time a physical experience. With a plethora of free toddler yoga classes available on-demand, there’s no reason you can’t turn screen time into a bit of exercise for your little ones. Since there are videos available tailored to kids of every age, you can find one with instructions that are based on your children’s level of understanding.
They’ll be up off the couch, moving, working on coordination, following direction, and of course, having fun. The multi-sensory experience of looking, listening, and doing is great for kids to practice. In addition to yoga, my kids love watching music-based programming that provides instructions for choreographed dance moves. Timeless classics like “If You’re Happy and You Know It” or “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” are popular in our house, but there are tons to choose from.
If you’re feeling extra ambitious, get your kids in on learning a TikTok dance. Anything that turns screen time from a passive activity to something active is a win.
3. Choose Something That’s Interactive or Educational
One of the reasons I don’t worry about using screen time as a tool in my parenting toolbox is because I can see how much my kids learn from certain programming. Not only can shows be a great way to expand your child’s vocabulary, but there are many educational shows that ask for participation on the other side of the screen. The options are endless when it comes to pre-school level shows that help children to develop basic counting and math skills, in addition to learning about shapes, colors, spelling, and vocabulary.
You can also use this as an opportunity to use screen time in conjunction with books, games, puzzles, and toys to enhance your child’s understanding of a particular subject. For example, my toddlers are currently into bugs and insects so we watch programming with this theme, but we also hunt for bugs in the backyard, read about different insects, and have a few bug-themed toys that they love to tie the concept together.
As I see them soaking in tons of information, I’m happy to make screen time part of the equation when it comes to their education and development.
4. Schedule Screen Time
While we certainly allow screen time in our house, it’s not exactly a free-for-all. My toddlers are at an age where they can ask for what they want, but just because they’re asking for the television to be turned on doesn’t mean it automatically is.
I find that a loose schedule works best for us, and that means that screen time is scheduled for short increments of time when it works best for our family. It’s also sandwiched between plenty of outdoor activities, reading time, independent playtime, mealtimes, and sleep.
Since we’re pretty consistent with when screen time is allowed, my kids have learned when they can expect it—and when they can’t.
5. Screen Time as Entertainment
Sometimes screen time is simply entertainment, and that is OK too. A favorite Disney movie or an app that’s more about having fun than leaning is fine in moderation.
In a generation where limiting screen time is discussed at length, it’s hard not to second guess yourself when it comes to screen time. In these moments, it’s helpful for me to think back to my own upbringing where plenty of time was certainly spent in front of the television.
Just like adults need time to relax and unwind in a semi-mindless setting, kids need that too. As long as your managing expectations and the circumstances around screen time, there’s nothing wrong with this type of engagement.