In an ideal world, toddlers should be involved in sensory play, active play, and activities that, in general, do not require a child to be in front of a glowing screen.
But this is not an ideal world — this is a tech world — and whether we admit it or not, it’s getting more challenging to keep our toddlers away from gadgets and the television. The fact that many parents use a smartphone for most of the day does not make this challenge any easier.
Then again, just because it is challenging to keep toddlers away from the screen does not mean that we should let them use gadgets whenever they want to. As parents, it is our responsibility to manage screen time for toddlers effectively. Here are 9 tips to keep in mind!
1. Establish specific screen time rules.
Create a daily schedule and post it in the living room or wherever your toddler can see it at all times. Make this schedule as specific as possible, specifying hours for daily activities including screen or gadget time.
For example, set 10:00 am to 11:00 am as “screen time.” It’s a good idea to draw illustrations to encourage your child to be independent in following their schedule. For example, draw a gadget like an iPad beside “screen time.”
2. Pre-select apps and television shows.
Have a list of parent-approved apps and television shows that your toddler is allowed to use or watch. But don’t rely on websites and content ratings alone. Use the apps and watch the shows before giving your child access to them to be 100% sure that they are high-quality, safe, and beneficial for your toddler.
3. Supervise and monitor your child closely.
Your toddler should never be left alone with gadgets even after you have already pre-selected and pre-approved apps and shows. Because they have access to the internet, it is possible that they may come across ads which are not age-appropriate, so always monitor them actively during screen-time.
4. Use technology to educate and ignite your child’s passions.
Since we are living in a world where it is virtually impossible to keep your toddler away from technology, it is a good idea to maximize technological access by using it to educate and ignite your child’s passions. For example, instead of just watching any entertaining video, choose ones that are both entertaining and educational.
Also take note of the things that your child is interested in. Are they interested in cars and machines? Look for apps and games that ignite their curiosity and teach them about cars and machines. This way, screen time can become learning time.
5. Refrain from watching TV when you’re eating.
Another thing that you can do to manage your toddler’s screen time and prevent them from getting addicted to gadgets is to establish places in your house where screen time is not permitted. A good example of this is the dining room. Make mealtimes a place and time for family bonding and free-flowing conversation, which enriches your toddler’s experiences. To do this, there should not be a TV in the dining room, and you should refrain from checking your phone while eating.
6. Engage your toddler in different activities.
If there is one surefire way to prevent your toddler from getting addicted to gadgets, it is to keep them engaged in activities that don’t involve them. Surround your child with fun and educational tools such as toys, books, board games, sports equipment and art materials. This way, they will know that screen time is just an option and not the only way to entertain themselves.
But more importantly, be there for your child. Be ready to play with them, take walks with them, and do activities with them. There is still no replacement for playtime with an engaged parent.
7. Have screen-free time.
If you can establish screen time rules, you can also establish rules for screen-free time. If you can, set one screen-free day per week where you, as a family, bond together without any gadgets. You can go on a trip to the zoo or just spend the day playing board games at home.
If your schedule does not allow screen-free days, then it’s also perfectly fine to schedule screen-free hours at home (where no one is allowed to check their phone).
8. Be consistent in implementing your rules.
Whether it’s sleep training or potty training, consistency is the key in implementing rules effectively. This also applies to managing screen time rules. Because you are trying to create long-lasting habits in your child, it is essential that you do not only create guidelines but also stick to it.
If you say that your toddler is only allowed one hour of screen time per day, do not make exemptions just because grandma is coming to visit. This way, your child will understand that your guidelines are a way of life and not just a suggestion
9. Set a good example.
Let’s end this list with the most challenging tip: looking at your own screen time habits and making sure you are being a good role model. Start by setting aside time to reflect on your habits. How many hours do you spend on your phone? How much of this time is necessary and how much is mindless? Do you find yourself checking social media when you should be interacting with your child?
Children, especially toddlers, are great imitators, and they usually imitate their parents, whom they see most often. If they see you reading a book, they are more likely to read a book, too. If they always see you binge-watching TV shows, what do you think is your child likely to do? Set a good — and consistent — example, and your toddler will follow.