How to help your kids make better choices with their screen time

Screen time is kind of a double-edged sword for a lot of parents. On one hand, it’s a saviour when you need five minutes of peace to chug down your cuppa before it goes cold. On the other, it’s that niggling worry in the back of your mind: “Is my child turning into a screen zombie?” But, try not to fret because, as you will see below, there are plenty of ways to help your kids make wiser decisions about their digital diet, transforming passive screen time into an engaging, educational adventure….

screen time child looking at smartphone

Screen time Photo by Drew Rae

  1. Set the Scene with Screen Time Rules

Before you do anything else, you really do need to make sure you set clear boundaries. It’s about creating a routine that includes screen time without letting it take over. Maybe decide that screens are okay after homework and chores are done, but only for a set amount of time. This helps children understand that while screens are fun, they’re just one slice of the daily life pie.

  1. Champion the Educational Stuff

In the vast wasteland of apps and games, there’s a treasure trove of brilliantly brainy activities just waiting to be found. So, be sure to encourage games that stretch their minds — puzzles, strategy games, and apps that dovetail with their school subjects. These aren’t the dull, droning tasks they might dread; many are cleverly cloaked in fun and excitement. Think of platforms like Khan Academy Kids or National Geographic Kids that offer games and quizzes on everything from Ancient Egypt to the world of creepy crawlies. Heck, even games like solitaire and minesweeper can teach them a thing or two about logical thinking, strategy and patience!


  1. Make It a Family Affair

Who says screen time has to be a solitary sport? Dive in together, kids and parents, and make it interactive. Schedule a family game night where you can all play something like Trivia Crack or Words with Friends. Not only does this help you monitor what they’re engaging with, but it also shows them how you navigate digital spaces, setting a real-time example of balanced screen use.


  1. Encourage Creation Over Consumption

Turn consumers into creators. Encourage your kids to use their screen time to create something brilliant. Whether it’s making a film with an app like iMovie, building new worlds in Minecraft, or starting a blog, creative use of screen time is infinitely better than passively watching videos for hours on end.


  1. Get App-Savvy

Be proactive in discovering new apps and games for your kids. Look for ones that have won awards or come highly recommended by educators. Apps like Lightbot teach coding through fun puzzles, while Toca Boca apps offer a range of activities from running a hair salon to designing a house, which can spark interest in various hobbies and careers.


  1. Teach Them About Balance

It’s crucial to chat with your kids about the importance of balance. Explain why too much screen time can be bad — not just for their eyes, but for their brain and body too. Encourage them to mix their day up with other activities they enjoy like reading, playing outside, or doing some crafts. Maybe introduce the idea of a ‘screen time token’ system where they earn screen time by engaging in other healthy activities.


  1. Screen Time Isn’t Just Entertainment

Help them see that screen time isn’t just for entertainment. It can be a wonderful learning tool. Guide them to educational videos that expand on what they’re interested in or learning in school. Platforms like TED-Ed are perfect for this, offering a range of topics from science to literature, explained in fun and engaging ways.


  1. Discuss and Reflect

Make it a routine to discuss with your children what they’ve watched and played. This not only helps you keep an eye on the content but also encourages them to think critically about what they’re consuming. Ask questions like, “What did you learn?” or “What would you have done differently in that game?” This turns passive consumption into active reflexion and learning.


  1. The Power of Example

Remember, kids are sponges. They absorb everything, including your habits. Let them see you balancing your own screen time, picking quality content over mindless scrolling, and engaging in other hobbies. Demonstrating healthy screen habits yourself is perhaps the most powerful tool you have.


  1. Explore Interactive Learning Websites

Encourage your kids to visit interactive learning websites that mix education with fun. Sites like BrainPOP, Cool Maths Games, and Starfall offer educational games, animated movies, and activities that cover a broad range of subjects from maths and science to art and music. This way, screen time becomes an extension of their classroom learning.


  1. Utilise Educational TV Shows

Swap some cartoon time with educational TV shows that are both informative and entertaining. Shows like Magic School Bus, Bill Nye the Science Guy, or Blue Planet can spark a child’s interest in science and nature. Discuss the episodes afterwards to reinforce the information and turn passive viewing into an interactive discussion.


  1. Encourage Musical Exploration

Introduce them to websites and apps that encourage musical exploration and education. Tools like Chrome Music Lab or Yousician can teach basics of music theory, rhythm, and instrument playing through engaging, interactive formats.


  1. Foster Artistic Skills

Use apps like Procreate or Tux Paint to let your children express themselves artistically. Digital art can be a fantastic way for kids to develop their artistic talents and think creatively, plus they get to experiment with different styles without any mess to clean up.


  1. Promote Physical Activity

Encourage them to engage in screen activities that require physical movement. Games that use motion sensors, like those on the Nintendo Switch or using apps like Just Dance Now, can be a great way to keep them active, ensuring they’re moving and not just sitting while on screens.

  1. Develop Reading Habits

Introduce your children to e-books and audiobooks. Platforms like Audible for audiobooks or Epic! for ebooks specifically for kids can help instil a love of reading through a medium they love. Set challenges or reading goals they can achieve with rewards to motivate them.


  1. Learn a New Language

Utilise apps like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone, which make learning a new language engaging and fun. This can be an excellent use of screen time, opening up new cultures and languages to your children in an interactive format.


  1. Strengthen Maths Skills

Encourage the use of apps and games that strengthen maths skills in a fun way. Prodigy and Mathletics are platforms where children can practice maths in an engaging, game-like environment, complete with challenges and rewards.


  1. Teach Programming Skills

Introduce your children to the basics of coding with kid-friendly programming apps like ScratchJr and Tynker. Learning to code not only teaches them about technology and problem-solving but also empowers them to create and understand the digital world around them.


  1. Watch Historical Movies or Series

Use historical movies or series as a launching pad for learning about different eras. Discuss the historical context, the accuracy of the portrayal, and what life was like during those times. This can make history come alive in a way that textbooks might not.


  1. Engage with Science and DIY Projects

There are numerous science experiment apps and websites that guide kids through various projects and experiments they can do at home. Websites like Science Buddies offer ideas that range from simple to complex, all of which can be done with household items and encourage practical learning of scientific principles.


  1. Virtual Museum Tours

Explore culture and history through virtual tours of museums around the world. Many world-renowned museums offer online tours that can be a great educational resource for children, providing them a glimpse of different cultures and historical artefacts.


  1. Participate in Online Clubs or Groups

Online clubs and groups can be great for encouraging specific interests in your kids, from chess to science, while also boosting their social skills, if you do not have such a club nearby where you live.


  1. Documentary and Non-fiction Appreciation

Cultivate an appreciation for documentaries and non-fiction content. Select documentaries that are age-appropriate and cover topics of interest to them, whether it’s nature, space, technology, or animals. This type of content can deepen their understanding of the world and inspire curiosity.


  1. Guided Meditations for Kids

Try to get your kids to give a screen-based meditation session a go. Apps like Smiling Mind or Headspace both have fun programs that teach kids the basics of mindfulness, which will help them to relax and stay calm. Ideal for bedtime, but also great for kids who are highly-strung, if you ca get them to follow along, you won’t regret it.


  1. It’s Okay to Disconnect

Teach them the power of unplugging. Sometimes the best way to refresh and reset is by turning everything off. Have regular digital detox days where the whole family engages in non-screen activities. It can be a day of outdoor adventures, board games, or a book marathon.


Managing screen time is totally possible. You really don’t have to go to the extremes of either not letting your kids use screens at all or allowing them free rein to do whatever they want online. Yes, it might be a delicate balance, but if you guide your kids, you can get it right.


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