Enforcing screen time with toddlers

Going out to eat as a family with young children is a lesson in patience for parents. Not only do you have to agree on where to go, get everyone in the car, and hope that when you pull up, the line’s not out the door; you also have to endure the minutes – or sometimes hours – it takes to get your food. When faced with this situation, and others like it, it’s convenient for parents to toddlers a phone, tablet, or other devices to keep them occupied. However, as useful as this is in the moment, it can backfire if not managed well. That’s why it’s so important to have established screen time rules that you enforce at home, as well as out and about.

Enforcing screen time rules with your toddler

As your toddler approaches their third birthday, consistently enforcing screen time is essential. So often, parents find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of allowing too much use of the phone, tablet, or television and then dealing with the fallout when telling their child to turn it off. But remember, you are the adult. The attitude, tone, rules, and behavior you model sets the tone for years to come.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines in October 2016 which recommends that children ages two to five years limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. It’s important to note that the AAP identifies screen time as time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes.

One hour goes quickly for a child, so take some time to establish family rules that are easy to follow and can be enforced. Consider the following tips when determining the use of screens with your toddler.

Create family screen time rules

If family rules have not been established and taught, don’t expect your toddler to give the tablet back just because you asked. Come up with two to three basic rules that kids of all ages can understand, then teach the rules before allowing your child to use screens.

Early on, establish that all children need to ask a parent or caregiver permission before using a tablet. You can follow that up with the total time allowed in a day (remember AAP says one hour per day). Chances are, your toddler will not remember how much time they have used. Consider a wall chart where they can mark time off in 15-minute increments. Finally, it’s up to you to decide which games, videos, and apps count as “high-quality,” and making a list of the ones you or your partner approve.

Establish and post consequences

To keep things simple, decide on a few consequences related to screen time and post them on the wall by the time chart. For example, if you say “You’re 15 minutes are up, time to turn the iPad off.” And your child responds with, “No, I don’t want to,” and proceeds to ignore requests, then put all electronics in time-out for the remainder of the day.

Screen time before bed

Use of tablets, phones, and television should be limited or even eliminated before bedtime. If you are going to allow your toddler to view screens before they heads off to sleep, aim to power down all gadgets and TVs one to two hours before lights out. You can even make it a game and have him “tuck the screen in,” when it’s time to wind down.

Screen time when out and about

Enforcing screen time rules when your child is with grandparents, other family, or friends, can be difficult. But if they are going to be spending a significant amount of time at other houses, then it’s a good idea to have a conversation with those adults about your preferences. Start by letting them know you follow the one-hour of screen time per day rule. If Baby’s coming home and talking about being on electronics most of the time, you may need to have another conversation about alternative activities or consider reducing the time he spends at that particular house.

About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son. 

  • “Where we stand: Screen time.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 1 2016. Retrieved August 22 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx.

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