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Susan Says: Limiting kids’ screen time



Necia asked: “Now that summer is here, what are some strategies to see that my kids are not glued to electronics?  How can I get them to go outside and not whine and complain when I make them turn off all the devices?”

This is a very timely question. Many parents today struggle to balance the benefits of modern technology with the risks. Children seem to be spending less and less time outdoors and more time interacting with their screens. Because online activities are so exciting it can be difficult to pull kids away for healthier activities and teach them how to enjoy real life.

The dangers in new video technology are that kids are retreating into a make-believe world designed by someone else. They are not outside with friends creatively engaging in healthy make-believe play. When their online world becomes more of a reality to them than daily life we see video game addiction, which can be just as debilitating as any other addiction.   

A recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven and a half hours a day with cells phones, computers, televisions and other electronic devices. That means the only things keeping kids away from electronic devices are eating, sleeping and school. During the summer months, of course, you can generally remove school from the equation.

Below are ten tips to help your children put down that iPad and get out and enjoy real life.

  1. First set boundaries for yourself – put your phone, iPad, and laptop away and go for a walk or bike ride with your kids or visit a park or swimming pool. Invest in some board games you can play with them. Don’t expect them to love this at first because playing games on their iPad is so much quicker and easier – but insist on some family time with no electronics.
  2. Help kids connect with nature. Being around animals is a great way to connect. Walking the dog, going horseback riding, taking a trip to an aviary or zoo, going for a hike in the canyons, and camping. Even camping in the backyard works!
  3. Arrange your environment. Put fun exercise equipment in easy-to-access places in the garage or yard. Provide as much equipment for outdoor games and sports as you can afford. Allow kids access to tools to build their own games, ramps, mazes, tree house, or fort.  Invest in a trampoline. Now, send them outside and leave the electronics in the house.
  4. Set boundaries of time on electronic use–Include ALL electronics, including Television. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommends limiting the amount of total entertainment screen time for all children to less than two hours per day. Also insist that electronics are used only in open spaces in your home. Many kids are in their bedrooms gaming all night long. Open spaces rules will protect your kids from hiding electronic use and allow monitoring what kind of material they are seeing.
  5. Have a “Look Up” rule. Teach your kids that when they are on their electronics and someone speaks to them NO MATTER WHAT they stop and have eye contact with the person.  Emphasize to them that “others come first before gaming.” Homework, friendships, and respecting adults are the priority. Electronics are a privilege – not a need!
  6. Leave all devices at home when you go out on a family activity. This includes silencing all phones and spending face to face time together. Too many times in restaurants you will see families out to dinner, but everyone is on their phones rather than talking to each other.
  7. Do not use technology as a reward. It is very common for parents to use computer time or video game play as the reward for doing homework, or as a bribe for doing undesirable activities such as chores. Unfortunately, because the internet can be so pleasurable this may activate the same pleasure and reward centers in the brain that are involved in addiction.
  8. Don’t nag or criticize. If you have nagged your kids in the past about how much time they spend with electronics your kids are aware of how you feel about it–nagging will only increase conflict. Instead set reasonable limits, express empathy and focus on something positive they did. For example: “I know how difficult it is to spend less time with the video game you love. I am so proud of you for walking the dog today.”
  9. Talk to kids. Do your kids know WHY they shouldn’t be on devices all the time?  Long term use of electronics causes over stimulation and has been linked with obesity, chronic headaches, depression, and attention deficit disorders. It has also been correlated with violent behaviors and pornography addiction in males.
  10. Finally, don’t expect a quick fix. Change takes time. If your family has not had rules about screen media, try to remember that this is a long-term project. Behavior experts know that it can take two months or more for new habits to become automatic. For kids who have spent most of their day with technology or who have lost interest in other hobbies, many families find it takes four or more months for the child to become engaged in the new lifestyle!

Susan Mitchell is a licensed clinical social worker and co-director of Ascendant Behavioral Health, located in Lehi. She can be reached at (801) 872-5516, or

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