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July 20, 2021 4 min read

9 Tips for Cutting Back on Screen Time for Young Children

Recently our family has cut back on screen time. It was hard! Probably the hardest thing I've ever done, harder than giving birth or running a marathon. LOL! But don't let that put you off, the rewards are worth it. Here are some things that I found helpful when cutting down.

1. Change your passwords and hide the remotes

We changed the passwords on our phones, 'lost' the ipad at Nanny and Poppy's house, and started keeping the remotes on a high shelf. 

2. Talk to the older children about what the new screen time limits will be

We decided to stick to the Ministry of Health's guidelines of 2 hours for our primary school aged child, and 1 hour for our pre-schooler (none for the baby)

3. Cut back on your own screen time

As adults, we had to acknowledge that we were on our phones way too much, and we were setting a bad example for our children. Our children absolutely would not be happy to not go on a screen if they saw that we were on ours. I decided that I would cut my recreational screen time to two hours. We stopped watching breakfast TV.

4. Set screen-free times

We have a few screen-free times that are non-negotiable. No screens before 6am- everyone needs their sleep, and we had found that children were waking up too early in order to watch a screen. Aargh!!!!! During term time we are also strictly screen-free from 7am until everyone is ready to leave. They need to be dressed, bags packed, teeth brushed, hair brushed, and shoes on before they can have a screen. To be honest it rarely happens and in reality we're screen free from 7am until they leave the house. We are also screen free from dinner time until bed time. 

We also agreed that we would not go on screens when we were travelling in the car. Personally I find this part hard because when my husband was driving I would use the time to catch up on my messages! 

I really enjoy the screen-free time between dinner and bed, we often play with toys or play games and it is a nice time to connect with our children after the day. If the younger ones are scratchy I will start bath time early and they'll have a 30 minute bath.

5. Monitor screen time

This is the boring bit, but as they say, 'you manage what you measure'. I use the screen time function on my phone to monitor how much screen time my daughter and I are having. I also try to limit her to just the one device, so it's easier to keep track of screen time. It's difficult to keep tabs if she uses my phone, then my husband's phone, then the TV. 

6. Spend time connecting with your children

Cutting back on screens is a big and difficult transition for children, especially if they had unrestricted screen access before. It's good to spend time connecting with them, doing things that they like to do, listen to them and really try to build your relationship. It's amazing how much connection the screens take away. 

7. Focus on the good stuff

I wonder how many times an hour I smile when I'm hanging out with my children, compared with how many times an hour I smile when everyone is watching a screen. Yes sometimes looking after children is stressful and hard, especially if they're fighting, but sometimes you get to a sweet spot where everyone is content and connected and it is so so good.  

8. Reflect and reassess

Sometimes we'll have a difficult day, someone will have a meltdown, there was fighting, or hurt feelings. It's helpful to think back over the day, was there too much screen time? Not enough sleep? Not enough quality connected time? Or something else. Often too much screen time goes hand in hand with not enough connected time. It's helpful to look back and try to figure out if there is something that you'll do differently tomorrow.

9. Don't use screen time as a punishment or a reward

I don't know where I got this idea, but it probably goes along with my other parenting beliefs. I try not to glamorise screen time, our children don't get extra screen time if they're good, and it isn't taken away if they're naughty. I don't want them to develop a scarcity mindset, and I don't want to use screen time as a reward and reinforce the idea that screens are the best thing ever. I'm not an expert though, you do you, boo.

10. Go easy on yourself

I'm aware reading through this that I sound very regimented, so I've added this last one in. I probably sound like I have things more together than I actually do. Cutting back on screen time for children is really hard! Apps that children use are designed to be addictive to keep children on there for longer. Sometimes it feels like it's you up against all of Silicone Valley! Don't be too hard on yourself if it's hard or you feel like you're not succeeding. 

These are some of the things that work for us, after over six months effort cutting back on screens. Every day is still a challenge though. It is hard. Sometimes someone is sick and they end up on screens more, or we get busy and don't monitor as carefully. We're not perfect and I don't want to pretend we are. Go easy on yourself and know that this is a very difficult thing that you're doing. 

I hope you found these ideas helpful. I know cutting back on screens is difficult, stressful, and hard. It is an ongoing process and I suspect we will continue working at it for years. The screens have a way of creeping back in! Good luck.

As part of our commitment to cutting back on screentime I took Rachel McFedries Smart Approach Course, which I wholeheartedly recommend. 




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