As parents, the sense of worry and guilt that comes with offering your child the iPad or turning on the TV can feel all too familiar. Neuroscience Educator and parenting expert Nathan Wallis, gives us his 4 top tips for managing children’s screen time

According to nib’s 2020 State of the Nation Parenting Survey, 87 percent of respondents reported being concerned about the impact of screen time on their children.

nib 2020 Parenting Survey infographic

While it can be a good distraction and offer some temporary relief – especially for parents who may have transitioned to a ‘work from home’ situation – the increased time in front of a screen can impact your child’s development and affect family relationships.

So, what can be done to help manage screen time? Here are four practical tips that have proven immensely helpful in my experience coaching Kiwi parents nationwide.

1. Healthy screen time starts with you

Like every other habit, kids learn first and foremost from their parents. That’s why it’s crucial for parents to model healthy device use and set a consistent example. While it may be tempting to use the “do as I say, not as I do” approach, this can easily lead to tears and frustration.

Setting a good example can start with something as simple as implementing non-negotiable times during the day for the whole family to be ‘unplugged’. Dinners can be an ideal time for many families, as it offers a set opportunity (creating routine) for everyone to come together and be involved in spending quality time as a family.

2. Offer alternatives that keeps them engaged

While the occasional device-use to keep kids occupied shouldn’t cause you any guilt, a better alternative would be to encourage them to find activities that don’t require a screen.

Try introducing an arts and crafts project, get active with a bike ride, or even ask them to organise a talent show for the whole family. Having some of these fun ideas on hand will help prevent your kids from developing a reliance on seeking out devices for entertainment – you may even help them discover a new hobby for life!

3. Establish ‘device-free’ zones

This mean no TVs, computers or any handheld devices in the area created to be device-free. The best space to establish this zone is often their bedroom. That way, if they’re in their room, there shouldn’t be any screens and you’re more likely to be able to keep an eye on your child’s device usage, making it easier to also monitor what they’re doing online.

Most importantly, the lack of devices in the bedroom means they won’t be using them late at night. Screen use before bed can often negatively impact on sleeping schedules and growth development, as the light from the screens can affect melatonin production which is crucial for regulating sleep-cycles.

4. Hand the reins to your child

Getting your kids to stick to the rules if they don’t understand the reasoning behind the restrictions can be difficult. So why not involve them in the discussion when setting the rules around device-use?

Not only can you explain to them why you have set certain limits around screen time, but you can also teach them about compromise. By giving them the freedom to choose when and how they make use of their own screen time, you can keep them responsible and accountable while getting their buy-in.

For all the latest expert advice, and parenting tips and tricks, check out our Grown ups: Parenting advice section.

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Nathan Wallis is a father of three & foster parent with a professional background in child counselling, teaching and social service management. Find out more about Nathan's Parenting events here: Nathan Wallis

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