Tech Tips

Tech Tips for the Tykes, from a Teacher:
Part 2

8 Tips to Help You as a Parent Accomplish Limiting Screen Time

Hello, again! It’s Ms. Anne, ready for more tyke tech talk!

Okay, we know a lot now! In part 1 of this blog post, we discussed all those yucky, negative effects of too much screen time as well as some alternative activities for your child.

Before we chat about the tech tips you can use to limit screen time, I’d like to share a fun fact. Well, fun and possibly startling. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Big names, as far as technology goes, right? Gates is a father of 3 and Jobs, a father of 4. Both tech founders raised their children tech-free. Hmm… they created Apple and Microsoft, and they seldom allowed their children around those very products. Ding, ding, ding: my parent alarm bells are going off!

But let’s face it: some of this is easier said than done. Technology and screens are everywhere! We can’t even go to Target anymore without having a hypnotizing screen there during our wait time near the register! And yes, our children will have a different “growing up” experience than we did! I would bet that our parents didn’t have smartphones, Netflix, Youtube, iPads… life seemed simpler, didn’t it?! We have–and our children will eventually have more of—every type of technology literally at our fingertips. Our children will have jobs, when they grow up, that use technology that hasn’t even been developed right now in 2019. Our kiddos will eventually need to have the skills to get these tech jobs. There is definitely a time to gain those tech and coding skills! For the sake of this post, we’re focusing on our children aged 0-5. It’s safe to say that it’s more essential to have real experiences with the world around them versus virtual experiences in front of a screen when they’ve only been alive on this planet for 5 years or less!

Technology is essential to our everyday life. But to a toddler’s life? A preschooler’s life? Setting boundaries for our screen use in this time of technology? How in the world are we supposed to do that? This is the exact question my husband and I discussed when we realized we wanted to make a change to our family’s screen intake. No need to throw out your TVs and smart phones!

Here are 8 tips to help you as a parent accomplish limiting screen time:

1. Decide as a parent or parent team what your screen boundaries will be, and then follow-through.

It’s just like a diet. If you have this goal of losing weight and set up a plan to do it, you should follow that plan. You won’t reach your goal sitting on the couch every night eating Doritos; it just won’t happen. You want your child to not be in front of a screen every night when you get home? Make a plan and stick to it. However—just like a weight loss program—it’s tough work! Making little improvements is how it’s done. Commitment to the plan is key.

2. Have books, toys, games, and creative materials easily accessible at home and on-the-go.

Materials on your baby’s, toddler’s or preschooler’s level are more likely to be touched. We, as parents, know this. (Hello, babyproofing!) What you provide at their level at home is what they’ll find. Unless your toddler is a mountain climber; then you have a bigger challenge on your hands!

When you’re out-and-about in the car, at a restaurant or watching an older sibling’s baseball game, what is your child doing? Talk or sing with your child in the car! Longer car trips over a few hours? I get it: watch a movie! Color or read at a restaurant, and train them to do this. They don’t need a phone; there is plenty to look at and talk about at a restaurant!

Before we go on an outing where I know Daisy will be sitting for a while, I let her pick out activities to put in her “special backpack”. She has a bin full of activities that we only use when we go on outings like a visit to a restaurant or to church. She packs the bag with things she wants to play with during the outing, and we don’t let her play with these items at home. It makes them extra special when we go out, and she is excited to play with them because she chose them herself! It works like a charm!

3. Give your child choices.

What does your child want? Your love and attention, yes. But do you know what else they want? To be in control! At least, they want to feel like they’re in control. This is where a little “trick of the trade” comes in. We teachers use this trick about 473 times a day.

The trick is called “giving choices”. Sounds simple, right? The trick is that timing and order matter. For example, you are trying to have a screen not being an option after dinner is over. Don’t give them that option. During dinner, before your child is one bite away from leaving the table and running for an iPad, give them choices. Two or three choices. Give options that you are perfectly fine with having your child choose. “After dinner, would you like to play with playdoh or build with Legos?” Oh, this will make your child feel like they have so much control when they get to pick! On another child psychology note, children most remember the very last thing you say. Sometimes it helps to mention the choice you want them to make last. Just another teacher trick! Happy choice-giving! 

4. Involve your child in household tasks with you.

This starts the big task of responsibility. It will make them feel so good to do “work” that you do around the house because that makes them feel “big”. Vocalize how proud you are of them! It’ll make them want to help again! Check out any of the many age-appropriate chore lists online. I like this one:

AGES 2-3

  • Put toys away
  • Put clothes in hamper
  • Wipe the table
  • Dust
  • Help put things away

AGES 4-5

  • Any of the Previous Chores
  • Make bed
  • Set table
  • Use small vacuum
  • Water flowers
  • Help unload dishwasher
  • Wash dishes in the sink
  • Take out recycling
  • Clear table
  • Match socks
  • Fold towels
  • Clean windows

5. Put on music in the background at home or in the car instead of a TV.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is providing Daisy a home with less screen-time and more family engagement. I vowed to myself that I would leave my phone in a different room when we got home from school each night until she went to bed. It was quite a tough haul in the beginning! I mean, I need to check and see what other people were up to, text my sister back, listen to that voicemail… list goes on. Was any of that as important as spending family time with my husband and daughter? You know the answer.

One thing that really helped me stay strong with this lifestyle change is my friend, Alexa. Really, a speaker has a changed the way we run the household. So, yes, technology has its place. Technology. Not screens. The difference? Sensory. With Alexa on our Echo Dot speaker, you and your kids don’t have eyes plastered to a moving image. Your ears hear your favorite music, your brain senses this and releases dopamine: the “feel-good” hormone! The music can be a background noise, dance party focus, nature sounds or whatever mood you want.  I cannot even count how many times Daisy has danced and sang around the house while listening to Moana or Frozen. Why not join in yourself?!

6. Model behavior that you expect from them.

This tip is straight from a teacher’s handbook. Parents should be cognizant to use it, too, since they are also their child’s teacher. Do you have your phone out at the dinner table? Your child will probably want to look at that screen, as well. Are your eyes glued to the TV while you’re making dinner? Your child sees this, and you can bet that they’ll be watching right along with you. What you teach as acceptable behavior is fair game: for now and the future, when it’s even more engrained.

7. Take some time for yourself BEFORE picking up the kiddos. 

This is one that I’ve really have had an “aha moment” about recently. Being a working parent, at some point in your day you have to make a shift from “work mode” to “parent mode”. What’s missing is “you mode”. That always-sought-after self-care that is on list in a self-help or Rachel Hollis-type book. Why? Because it’s true.

After 3 years of simultaneously being the wife/mother/teacher/friend/daughter/ sister/choir leader for everyone else, I came to a hard realization that this self-care thing really is all it’s cracked up to be. Everyday after I clock out, I do not pick up my daughter right away. It’s not because I don’t love my kid, and I don’t want to smooch those sweet cheeks. It’s because I know that I’m a better mom and a better wife and a better fill-in-the-blank when I get some “me time”. That often looks like going for a good run around Chan or a taking a walk while I listen to an Audible book. I do something for myself that I know I can’t do as enjoyably when I’m in “mom/wife mode”. This “me time” we create for ourselves gives us a break to catch our breath before our busy evening begins, and we can enjoy our family that much more. Notice that I said “we create for ourselves”: that’s the key. You need to make the time for yourself. Do you think anyone else is going to hand you a free hour in your day? Ha! That’s the trick in this one: you need to discover how to be the master of that “me time”. Make it happen.

8. Have a special time for screens.

One kiddo in my class always talks about how he has a family movie night each weekend! This makes it a family experience, and the kiddo really looks forward to it! The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents limit screen time use for children age 2 to 5 years to a maximum of 1 hour a day, ideally with a parent present. They also suggest to discontinue screen use at least 1 hour before bedtime.

Congrats! If you’ve stuck with me through these 2 blogposts, I commend you for educating yourselves on such a relevant topic that is simply never going to go away. In no way were these posts meant as judgment to the way anyone chooses to parent their child, but instead as a way to shed more light and awareness upon this subject.

I have one more nugget for you to hold onto! Below is a little example of screen-time that I want to leave with you. A high school friend wrote and posted this while I was researching this topic, so I took it as a striking sign to use it. She wrote this during the dog days of winter with her children: something we all have in common! She said she was fine with her writing being used. I hope it speaks to you, too.

She writes, “I took my kiddos to a museum today, a play place, and out to lunch. The photo below shows what I witnessed 99 percent of the time. Our generation breaks my heart. Now, before you think I am getting on my “high horse,” I myself am guilty of scrolling Facebook at home instead of engaging at times… my husband can attest to that. We are all guilty. But friends… we all need to do better. We need to PLAY with our kids. We need to interact with them and show them they matter. They need our eyes to show them we see them, and we love them. We need to ENGAGE! We are the most disconnected culture of parents there ever was. In one breath, I have mercy… I mean, this is snow day 9,021… we are all exhausted. But in another breath… when the play museum is packed and I am the only parent playing with her kids and not on a cell phone… We have a problem. My heart breaks for our kids. I felt bad for those whose parents never glanced up, never said a word. Our poor babies. Where is the balance?”

She said it: engage with your children. That’s why they are in your life! Her takeaway word is “engage”. My takeaway word that I give to you is “model”. As a teacher, I model all… day… long. Nope, not the runway. I model BEHAVIOR. I model what I want to see. I model safe, happy, healthy, appropriate choices that I want my students to copy and follow. You can bet that I positively reinforce those behaviors big-time when I see the kiddos doing them!

The “modeling” technique is not just something for teachers to use; parents use it too. You are already doing it, and you may not even know it! Want your child to make healthy food choices? Let them see YOU eating broccoli and salmon. Want your child to enjoy books? Let them see YOU reading a book, either to them or on your own. Want your child to watch less TV or iPad? Let them see YOU put your phone away and turn off the TV. Model want you want for your children. You are building habits for your children RIGHT NOW: be intentional about it! Your sweet kiddos are worth it!

We have a tough job as parents today! (Arguably, a tougher job than our parents, with the distractions of today’s technology among other reasons. I’ll save that debate for a different time!) Parenting is the toughest, messiest, most emotionally- and physically-exhausting job. It is simultaneously the sweetest, most important, fun and rewarding job.

If I can achieve anything by writing this post, my hope is that you become even more mindful and aware as a parent. What balance are you helping to create in your child’s life? What balance are you modeling for your child? Be an intentional parent. Be a present parent. Be a parent who radiates the fact that they have the best job in the world. Your child will eventually thank you for it.

Much love from your Pre-K Teacher, Mom, Friend,

Ms. Anne