Dr. Vincent P. Culotta of NeuroBehavioral Associates and Dr. Annie McLaughlin, Ph.D. recently held a screen time management webinar , sponsored by Autism Speaks, addressing the new difficulties facing families during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the best of times, managing your child’s screen time can be a struggle, but this is especially true when so much more time is now being spent at home with video games, digital media, and even remote learning.
As the summer continues and we prepare for the upcoming school year, here are some tips for managing screen time in positive and appropriate ways:
Make Your Screen Time Expectations Clear
Setting clear limits is essential both for managing healthy screen time, and for helping your child transition from screens to a new activity. Commonly, transitions are already difficult for children with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder. Making your child aware of your expectations will make it less likely that they will have an outburst when it’s time to end the screen time.
Decide how long your child will spend with any given screen time activity before they ever start participating and be sure to give them a clear frame of reference for this time. You might choose to use a picture schedule or other visual tool to help your child clearly see when screen time begins and ends.(1)
A few minutes before the end of the screen time session, give your child a reminder that it’s almost time to do something else. If your child has a particularly difficult time with stopping screen time, it may be a good idea to already have the next activity lined up. For instance, you could say, “Remember, you’ll need to turn off your game in 5 minutes. Then, you’ll be able to read your book series.”
Consider a Schedule
Schedules aren’t for everyone, but since children with neurodevelopmental conditions tend to thrive on routine, a daily plan can sometimes make a big difference for at-home success. Understood.org has downloadable picture schedules for various parts of the day for all ages, from getting ready in the morning to study hours and evening routines. Having this kind of routine can make it easier to manage excess screen time.
Include Outside Time In Your Day
If at all possible, try to include outdoor activities in your child’s day. Try to find a socially distant, safe trail for a regular walk or bike ride with your child. Getting outside and exercising is important for any child’s mental and physical health, but it’s also been shown to help the symptoms of conditions like ADHD.(2) Plus, it’s a healthy alternative to screen time when your child is bored. Outdoor play promotes imagination, curiosity, and calm.
Use Screens Positively
There are positive ways to use screens. There are certain television shows that have been shown to have positive benefits on children’s social and academic skills. Video chat is an amazing way to stay connected with friends and family across the globe. As much as possible, try to make your child’s screen time a positive experience with high-quality programming and uses.(3)
Of course, these are unusual times. Just like us, kids need time to relax and unwind with everything that is going on in our world. It’s okay, and even healthy, to let your child have free moments of enjoying a favorite show or other screen time activity. The important thing is that your child is also involved with other, non-screen activities, like cooking, reading, or making a craft project.
Model the Habits That You Want to See
Remember: Your child is watching you. If you’re spending all day on your phone or in front of a screen, then your child will have difficulty understanding why they shouldn’t be doing the same thing.(3) Try to intentionally carve moments out of your own day to take a walk with your child or bake a healthy recipe together. You’ll be spending quality time together and teaching your child that you value time away from screens, too.
NeuroBehavioral Associates remains open. We are providing low-contact assessments in our office, as well as telehealth services. Call 410-772-7155 or email us to schedule a comprehensive assessment today.
- Team, T. (2020, June 18). When You Say Screen Time’s Over, How Does Your Child React? Retrieved July 26, 2020, from https://www.understood.org/en/family/managing-everyday-challenges/daily-expectations-child/screen-time-over-can-child-stop
- CHADD. (2017, June 22). Spend Time Outside to Improve ADHD Symptoms. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/spend-time-outside-to-improve-adhd-symptoms/
Sheldon-Dean, H. (2020, May 27). Screen Time During the Coronavirus Crisis. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from https://childmind.org/article/screen-time-during-the-coronavirus-crisis