From the February 2018 issue

Easy Ways to Cut Kids’ Screen Time

A local pediatrician shares practical ways to break the habit.

It turns out there definitely can be “too much of a good thing.”

That’s what experts have found when it comes to screen time among kids, with new research linking it to attention issues, increased anxiety and other problems.

“Our primary job is to try to protect our kids from the bad parts of the screen, because they do serve a great purpose,” says Dr. Salvatore Ventimiglia, a pediatrician at Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center in Shelby Township and Troy. “I think about how my mom would limit how much TV I would watch. It’s not much different in how we’d want to protect our kids.”

Here are 10 easy tips Dr. Ventimiglia suggests for cutting down on screen time.

1. Be a good example

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“As parents, we need to model healthy electronic use,” Dr. Ventimiglia says. “That’s probably the hardest, because I think we’re all addicted to our phones and to our devices.”

Instead of scrolling Facebook in the grocery checkout line, “let your kids see that it’s OK to be bored,” Dr. Ventimiglia adds. “We don’t always have to have some sort of entertainment.”

2. Have a screen time ‘schedule’

Set aside certain times of the day when your kids must “unplug.”

“The whole family does it and, whether it’s the dinner hour or an hour before bedtime, everybody can spend the time together without TV, video games and computers,” he says. “A type of digital detox.”

Instead, play board games or read.

3. Use parental controls

Don’t forget to utilize parental controls on kids’ devices.

“Make sure there are good filters and strong passwords that we can use to really protect our kids from content that’s not appropriate for them,” he says.

Kids may not like the restricted access, but “it’s an argument worth having for the benefit of better quality screen time as well as better social time in the family.”

4. Make tech-free zones

“Have zones in the house where there just aren’t to be electronics,” Dr. Ventimiglia says. “The dining room shouldn’t have phones at the table. Bedrooms shouldn’t have electronics in it for those kids who will be texting their friends all night and not sleeping.”

5. Set limits

The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids ages 2-5 should watch only one hour, max, of high-quality programming per day. It’s much less than that for babies, while older kids should have consistent limits, it notes.

“I tend to relax it a bit,” he says, especially for older kids and teens. “And that limit would be for entertainment purposes; schoolwork may require more.”

6. Know the risks

Learn about online dangers, stay current on your kids’ apps, know their passwords and preview the YouTube channels they subscribe to.

“The most daunting task of parenting these days is really just understanding what’s out there,” Dr. Ventimiglia says.

7. Watch something together

Try to make screen time educational or a family activity like movie night.

“It’s not necessarily the video that’s going to educate; it’s that conversation that gets opened up between the parent and child,” he says.

8. Encourage other activities

A new hobby, class or sport might help, and encourage free activities at home like playing outside, building with Legos or crafting.

“Set aside a place where they can be creative,” Dr. Ventimiglia suggests.

9. Talk to your kids about screen time

Be open with your children about the risks of screen time overload and the other things they’re missing out on.

“It’ll probably sink in better than just, ‘I can’t watch my videos because my parents are mean,'” he says.

10. Teach them screen time is a privilege

The bottom line? “Screen time is a privilege more than it is any right,” Dr. Ventimiglia says – just like TV was in the past. “Use the technology as a privilege and (let kids know) good behavior models responsibility. Then we can trust them more with their devices.”

For more information or to make an appointment, visit shelbypediatricassociates.com.

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