Like many parents, my husband and I are constantly confronted with the issue of screen time for kids, specifically how to manage and limit their level of exposure. Even more disturbing is that we see the growing trend of young children, some barely 10 years of age, struggling with screen addiction and parents who seem helpless and desperately seeking measures to curb their kids’ screen addiction.
Here to Stay
Just like how the ‘idiot box’ of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, say what we like, smart devices are here to stay. In fact, they are already revolutionising the way we live and learn. Therefore, the key is not to just blindly shield our kids from these devices but to educate its proper usage and role model a sense of self-discipline for our kids.
Managing Screen Time at Home:
Like all habits and behaviours, it all starts from the home. Here are some ways which we are currently using to educate our own kids (and ourselves) on the appropriate use of smart devices at home
1. Don’t Gift It:
It’s quite common to hear kids ask for smart devices (e.g. iPhone, iPad, iMac etc.) as a gift or reward (usually for good academic results or performance in a competition). In fact, parents themselves offer smart devices as a gift or a reward as incentives to motivate their children. The problem is that once our children have earned the ‘reward’ or gifts, they technically own the devices. This makes it extremely difficult for parents to enforce limitations on the usage thereafter.
Tip: Make the smart devices (e.g. iPad, iPhone, laptops) a family shared device. Kids who wish to use it have to take turns to ‘loan’ the device from the parents. When it’s on loan, parents have the right to dictate the perimeters of use.
2. Confine It:
Whether you give or you ‘loan’, boundaries need to be communicated, agreed upon and enforced.
– Install pre-approved websites or use Parental Control Apps (e.g. YouTube Kids, Qustodio) to limit time spent on the device, track usage and location, and block apps or games as necessary.
– Limit computer usage to only certain websites for completing E-learning assignments only.
– Limit usage of mobile devices to certain time. When time’s up, curfew will be enforced and device has to be returned. We’ve heard some parents switching off the home’s WIFI in the evenings (e.g. 7.30 to 9.30pm) so that every member in the family can be fully present during dinner time and homework time.
– Set ‘out-of-bounds’ limits. E.g. smart devices are forbidden on dining table, beds and on car trips.
Boundaries can be gradually relaxed when the child has shown self-control, demonstrated responsible usage and earned parents’ trust.
3. Be Open with It:
While smart devices are excellent for educational purposes, sometimes unwarranted info can come looking for you instead – think YouTube ads and certain online games etc. which may contain undesirable contents for kids. It’s always good to have the computer or smart devices be placed in an open area in the home and not in a child’s bedroom or study room so that parents can monitor the sites which the kids are browsing.
4. Talk About It:
News stories on the proper usage as well as on the abuse of smart devices are aplenty. While these are sometimes shared in schools, highlighting and discussing them as a family, especially since it’s brought up by Mum and Dad, will reinforce the child’s understanding of the issues and implications at hand.
Tip: For the conversations to be conducive, avoid only talking about it when the child has erred. Talk about it regularly and adopt an open mind to elicit open conversations. Also, highlight positive stories rather than just harp on negative ones.
5. Role-model It:
It’s easier said than done – to role model good digital habits as parents. To be honest, it’s tough to separate ourselves from our devices because there’s so much updates screaming for our attention on social media but we recently found a good substitute that can actually help to make the smart home screen-free. Introducing to you ‘Google Home’.
‘Hey Google’ – A demonstration
Watch our video demonstration here on how we use Google Home to have a screen-free smart home:
Here’s how Google Home helps to create a screen-free smart home without having the need to see or touch our phones, computers and other smart devices:
– Create and check appointments on our schedule
– Check on the traffic, travel time and weather conditions to help plan our daily commute
– Help kids with questions from schoolwork, esp. those we parents, have no answers to!
– Use it as a Bluetooth speaker to listen to your favorite music, playlists and audiobooks while working or studying
– Get updates on news headlines and real-time stock market information
– Stream shows, films and Youtube videos on our TV without the need to type anything! (with Google Chrome cast on a smart TV)
– Use your voice to control your compatible home automation devices
– Ask for a recipe (and substitutes for ingredients which we have run out of!)
– Translate a word or term into another language
– Ask for general advice (even asking where to buy durians when our craving hits!)
– When you’re bored, it can even tell a joke and story. Serious!
Yes, all the above and more, totally screen-free and hands-free, with Google Home!
Google Home is amazingly intuitive and easy to set-up – all using the Google Home App. We’ve yet to explore the many more intelligent ways which Google Home can help to enhance family time the screen-free way!
6. Normalize It
Don’t get us wrong. The idea is NOT to totally ban screen-time but rather to integrate the use of smart devices in a healthy, balanced and functional way. Kids are particularly drawn to technology. Banning the use of smart devices totally may exacerbate their interest when they do get their hands on these devices outside of the home! Therefore, by all means, incorporate smart devices as part of our daily lives – for scheduling, recreation and for information gathering – but manage screen time at home properly so that our kids will not be enslaved to their devices. There are more useful tips in the infographic below.