Limiting screen time
How do you make sure that your children are not spending too much time with their gadgets?
This is the question that a mother asked me while I was waiting for my daughter to emerge from a long line of girls who are trying to get sparkles and makeup on their faces during the Princess Power event at SM City Cebu.
Frankly, I was not in the mood to talk or share my thoughts about screen time. I had respiratory tract infection and my head felt like it was about to split in two because of migraine. But I had to take the daughter out that afternoon because I promised a princess-filled hour as a reward for being one of the top pupils of her class.
Attending events meant meeting other mothers. That means trading notes and exchanging tips on how to navigate the world of motherhood in this gadget-centric society.
I gave a generic answer then. But let me expand on that answer here in the hope that other parents can learn a thing or two about limiting screen time.
Let it be known though that we are not a perfect household and I occasionally give in to the temptation of letting gadgets babysit my children especially when I am working from home and there are a gazillion things that need to be accomplished.
But allow me to share some of our time-tested practices, which have proven to limit screen time in our home.
I hope this works for you, too.
Ditch the TV
Here’s a confession. We do not have a TV at home. Not even the bulky, 24-inch kind. This is a conscious decision that my husband and I agreed on early in our marriage. It is so decadent to have a TV in the living room right after school. Just sit down with a remote control and browse through every channel available. But we do not want to promote that at home. We want the children to spend time drawing, coloring, or running rather than being a couch potato.
Establish screen-time rules
We are not hypocrites; we love our smartphones and our tablets. We just don’t let them control us, we rule over them. The general rule is “no gadgets” on school nights; that’s from Sunday to Thursday. We have “movie nights” on Fridays where we choose one movie, project it on our white wall and bring out the popcorn and the French fries. On Saturdays, they watch two or three pre-approved movies on Netflix. Current favorites include Coco, Matilda, Babe, Lilo and Stitch and Ratatouille. The children will beg you to reconsider especially on weekdays. I give in from time to time but I only go as long as one hour or one episode of a series (e.g. Green Eggs and Ham).
Let your child get bored.
One of the tricks that our eldest son play on us is to say: “Can I watch a movie on our tab? I’m so bored tonight I don’t know what to do. ” When you hear this from your child, calmly tell him that there are other ways to beat boredom. Suggest a couple of activities. We have six-year-old twins at home who are in first grade and are learning how to read so I made sight word cards for them to flip and read. We often do it as a race and then we eat ice cream afterwards. Parents, here’s what you need to remember: You do not have to constantly entertain your children. It’s alright for them to get bored because that’s when they get creative; that’s when they think about what they can do. During one night of boredom, our daughter started a sticker wall in our house. It was simply a wall where she placed all of the stickers that she and her brothers gathered. I was furious because the wall looked messy at first. But they decided that it was to be their sticker wall so we haven’t been seeing stray stickers in other parts of the house.
Do homeworks outside of the house.
A recent assignment in Science called for checking out the plants outside the house and listing them down according to descriptions and usage. I have very little time in my hands but I told our first-graders that we are going on an exploration adventure to observe the plants outside our home. We brought with us sheets of paper and pencils and one by one, we examine each plant and take notes. It’s a painstaking exercise. We described the plants together. We discussed. They wrote down on paper sentences about the plants. They asked for the correct spelling of words. It’s a tedious process but I would not have it any other way. They were able to get out of the house on a weekday, learned about different kinds of plants, and improved their spelling and writing skills in the process.
Sign them up for camping trips or similar activities.
The one thing I love about Facebook is the variety of events you can find in there. Keep an eye on family camping activities or children’s day-out treats where they can spend time outdoors. In our case, I make sure that I take the children on a short hiking exercise or an overnight camping with friends. It doesn’t need to be expensive and you don’t need to have all the expensive gears. There are several camp sites in Cebu that can prepare your food with rooms and tents for rent. My favorites are the Bacalla Woods Campsite in San Fernando, the Wassap Beach Camp on Bantayan Island and Camp Cebu in Cebu City. You’ll be surprised how many outdoor activities you can do with your children which are not cost-prohibitive.
Set good examples.
Whenever I want my children to mimic a habit or an action, I let them catch me doing it. I let them catch me reading. They have since picked on the habit. One of my proudest moments as a mother happened when all three of them were recognized with a book lover award last year. Set a good example by going out of the house to befriend other children. Show this by the way you talk and treat them. Say “good morning” and “thank you” often. Get them to play outside with other children. Let them run. It doesn’t matter if they fall and scrape they knee; just get your first aid kit ready.
There’s really no exact formula to limit screen time. If the tips above do not work for your children, then think of other ways that might work. What works for our home might not work for yours so don’t be afraid to create tailor-fit solutions for your family. But no matter what happens, do not let gadgets or the children overpower you. Remember that you are the parent: you take control and you take charge. You got this!
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