Managing the demands for screen time for younger children

Last week, we saw why limiting the time our young ones spent on screens was so important. 


And turning off any screen brings up a lot of anger from our child. Understanding what is happening to their neurological system helped me realize that it’s not our child’s fault that he doesn’t want the screens to be turned off. This is how addictive screens are!. 


With this, our role as parents needs to be much more active in helping our children manage screen time than merely reminding them to switch it off when we think they have had enough. Very often when are home without a planned activity, we hear the phrase, “I’m bored.” As parents, we may feel compelled to “fix it” for them. Tablets and smart phones are easy to pick up and fill in the space. However, screens come in the way of children exploring opportunities to engage in activities with others and themselves.


Here are some ways to manage demands for screen time from younger children.


  1. Having a Routine around screen time: Like we have routines around waking up, brushing our teeth, we can have a routine around screen time too. E.g., having a set time in the afternoon to watch screens. This might be easier on weekdays when children are busy with school, sports, tuition etc. But setting a clear time to watch screens will help limit it on weekends and holidays too. If the first thing your child does after waking up on a Sunday morning is asking if he can watch TV, we can say to him that TV time is in the afternoon. It does not have to be about him being a ‘bad boy’ wanting to watch TV the minute he’s out of bed.


Some parents might ask, “What if he watches TV for an hour in the morning and asks for it again in the evening?” It’s okay to be flexible around routines on some days. But giving him information on what that would mean will make it easier for you to guide him if he asks for it again. Would that mean if he watches it now, he gets to watch it again only the next day? Or would he like to watch it now for half the time and in the afternoon for half the time? The dialogue will be about what the routine is and not getting angry with the child for wanting a screen. When children find us consistently insisting on a routine they get used to accepting it more easily. If we give the child a screen for hours on one day because we happen to be busy and the next day try to take it away after short while they will protest and rules will be harder to enforce.  


  1. Modifying the environment (a concept borrowed from the book -Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon) helps us address many issues about our child’s behavior without arguing with our child – thereby keeping our connection with them intact. For example, if my daughter loves to eat candy and sees it lying around the house, she is going to be tempted to eat it all the time and most our time together will be spent in me correcting her behavior. What do you think that will do to our relationship? Instead, if there is no candy around for her to be tempted, she might remember to ask for it only once in a day!


In our curriculum, we help parents recall ways of modifying the environment with the acronym ARC-i.e. Add to, Remove from or Change the environment. So, how can we use ARC to manage screen time? Following are some examples. I’m sure you will come up with plenty more as you get the drift!


Add to the environment – 

  1. Involve her around the house chores. I have noticed that when I ask my daughter to clear up her toys, she plays with them with renewed interest! If she actually tidies the space, it’s a bonus. Or involve her around the kitchen. Caution: Doing things at their speed takes care of a huge amount of time which can be great to avoid screens.

  2. Having books to read / colour / paper to cut / having her make cards for her friends / family even when there is no occasion. They love to create something for their loved ones.

  3. Engage in play together. ‘You’ can be the best addition to her environment! She will slowly be open to this when she realizes that watching videos is not an option anyway.


Remove from the environment – 

  1. When I first began to experiment with ARC for my family, I simply would keep the TV remote where she couldn’t reach it. And if she asked for it I would say that” This is not TV time. You will get it in the afternoon when it’s TV time. If she is disappointed or cries I give her space to express her feelings and say, “I know it's hard to wait. You are angry with Amma for not giving you the remote.” It's important to allow children to go through their disappointment and be there for them.  

  2. This is also the time for us to reflect on our own screen use. It seems unfair to children when they can’t be on screens and we are immersed in ours.

  3. It's also useful to have the TV in a room that's away from the main living room. That way they don’t keep thinking about it. It also helps to keep away other screens like tablets so it does not tempt them.  


Change the environment –

  1. It’s great for the child to accompany any family member going out to visit someone or even for groceries. They learn a lot about the real world from these seemingly small exchanges.

  2. Have your friends / her friends over or plan outings to people and places devoid of screens. 

  3. Give them as much outdoor play as possible.