5 Ways to Teach Kids to Stay Present and Put Down Their Gadgets

Karen Costa
5 Ways to Teach Kids to Stay Present and Put Down Their Gadgets

Just last week, my husband, son, and I sat down as a family to create some more explicit rules around screentime: we'd been in more of a "go with the flow mode" and I'd noticed that my son's time spent on screens was gradually increasing.

Then, a couple of days later, I got a text from a friend whose son is the same age as mine. "Hey, how much screentime do you allow each day?" I couldn't help but laugh at the timing. Clearly, this is a common topic of conversation in households with young children.

Read on for five ways that you can teach your children (and perhaps yourself too!) how to stay present and put down their (or your) gadgets.

1. Educate Yourself First

Before my family set guidelines, I wanted to know what experts on child development had to say about screentime. I assumed that there would a specific amount of daily time recommended for school-age children (my son is eight). I was wrong.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their screentime recommendations for children. First, I think it's really important to note that for kids under eighteen months, they recommend no screens except for video chatting (they've got to say hello to grandma!).

For kids ages two to five, about an hour per day is the suggested limit. But for children age six or over, the guidelines are more flexible. The AAP acknowledges that in our modern culture, screens have become a part of life. For example, my son loves reading the "Who Was" non-fiction series of books. Guess what? There's an app for that! Should playing the educational Who Was? adventure app count as screentime? It depends on the wider context and on my family's specific situation.

For school-age children, rather than making blanket recommendations for all kids, the AAP suggests that each family create a consistent plan that acknowledges the many types of screentime that might benefit kids. What works well in one family might not work in another. Most importantly, set clear and consistent guidelines and communicate your expectations to your kids.

2. Be the Change

One of my favorite quotes that seems to apply in so many of my life experiences comes from Mahatma Gandhi, who famously said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

I definitely struggle with limiting my own screentime. As a writer and online professor, I spend a lot of time online each day for work. But, truth be told, I often find myself aimlessly scrolling through Instagram to pass the time. Last year, I decided to deactivate my personal Facebook account (I still use it for business) because I was spending too much mindless time on that site.

It's a step in the right direction, but I still have more work to do. One of the things that motivates me to monitor my time is that more than the words that I say, my own actions with screens will teach my son how to use screens as mindfully and positively as possible. I don't want him to feel "hooked" by his screens, and I don't want to feel that way either.

As you reflect on how you will teach your child about screen usage, take a moment to reflect on how much time you spend each day on screens and consider how much of that time is mindful and important. You might decide to make some changes for yourself as you also set limits for your child.

3. Talk to Your Child

One of the simplest strategies you can use to help your child become less attached to their gadgets and become more present is to talk to them about it. Rather than just laying out a set of rules that might feel arbitrary and punitive to your son or daughter, start off by asking them what they think about their screentime.

Ask them how they feel when they use their gadgets, and when they are away from their screen. My husband and I were surprised to hear my son, a Netflix and app enthusiast, confess to us that sometimes he doesn't like how he feels when he's been on his screens for too long. That self-reflection is more valuable than anything that we could ever explain to him.

4. Take a Break

Choose one day each week (or a weekend) to take a break from screens, gadgets, and devices. Make it an electronics-free day. "But I'm bored!" might be the initial response. Some experts argue that boredom is incredibly valuable for a child's development.

In my own home, I've noticed that my son might initially resist these "empty" spaces. But within a short amount of time, he's writing a book, building a castle, or coming up with some other creative idea. In my experience, boredom is fertile soil for creativity and growth.

Of course, this electronics-free day applies to you as well. Notice your own reactions and talk about them with your child. Saying to him or her, "I miss my phone but I know this is going to help me feel happier in the long run," is a great conversation starter. Sharing your vulnerability will help to build bridges and to teach your child how to handle challenges in the future.

5. Plan Alternatives

As your family initially detoxes from screens, it might be helpful to have some alternative activities waiting in the wings. Create a list of individual or family activities that don't involve any technology (e.g. playing basketball, board games, taking a walk, baking a healthy treat).

Another possible alternative is to ask your child to practice yoga or meditation with you. My son loves to practice with me. His favorite pose right now is five-pointed star. Check out this awesome guide to Yoga for Kids get ideas about practicing together. Developing a yoga and/or meditation practice will help your child to learn to sit in the present moment just as it is, without any outside entertainment, allowing them to make positive choices about screens now and in the future.

How do you handle screentime in your family? What other tips do you have for parents struggling to set consistent limits for electronics?

Image credit: Tie Simpson