Our lives feel busier than ever — cellphones, tablets and laptops can certainly help us be more efficient, but they also can make us feel like we need to be accessible to everyone all the time. Kids are introduced to technology at a younger age than ever before. Is technology a good thing or a bad thing when it comes to raising our kids? Here are some tips to help parents find balance and set some boundaries around screen time.• Out of sight, out of mind. Having the TV in the family room can make the television feel like the center of your family activities. If possible, put the TV in a hutch and close the doors when not in use. If your space is limited, move it into your bedroom (or better yet, a spare bedroom) to help make TV time more structured. On weekends, the family can snuggle on the bed and watch a movie together.
• Set a predetermined time for use of tablets or video games. Rather than battling over it all day, set a time and duration for when your kids will know they can play — many tablets even allow parents to pre-program access time. Consider setting play time before dinner for 30 minutes. It gives the kids a chance to unwind while you cook dinner.
• Create off-limit times for all devices. For example, have everyone turn in their cellphones before mealtime. Use a dedicated drawer or box so that it becomes a habit for everyone to just drop their phone in before sitting down at the table.
• Monthly unplugged day. Every month, ask the family to take one day to “unplug.” Have family members take turns planning activities for the day (go on a bike ride, a nature walk or visit a museum). Be sure to actually schedule the day every month and assign someone to be in charge of setting the agenda.
• Make learning fun. Since you can control what games/apps are on a tablet, pick options that are interactive and educational – there are lots of fun options that also encourage math, reading, and/or spelling skills.
• Curb the snacks. It’s easy to munch on snacks while watching a video without realizing how much (and how badly) you’ve eaten. Try to avoid handing out empty calorie snacks while your kids are watching – a plate of fruit and low-fat cheese make a nice sweet and savory combo for kids. And make sure you offset screen time with plenty of outdoor activities.
• Family game night. Replace watching TV with a family game night. Game night is also a great opportunity to invite neighbors and friends over with their kids for some healthy competition. And it’s a great way to encourage good sportsmanship, team building and cooperation.