5 Tips for setting up good boundaries for screen time

Aug 9, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. ET
Image: Pieter D'hondt/Getty Images

If we've heard it once, we've heard it 1,000 times — kids who are glued to the TV too much are at an increased risk for obesity, trouble focusing, less literacy and restless sleep. But with the proliferation of media today, it can be tough to keep kids' eyes off the screen.

Of course, that's precisely the reason it is so very important to establish good boundaries for screen time. Not only will having those boundaries in place help your child flourish, but it will also make them less susceptible to screen time temptations when they are outside the protective fold of home.

Easier said than done, right? Although putting those boundaries in place can seem like a daunting task when you're faced with a toddler mid-tantrum (we've all been there!), here are a few tips to help make the process less stressful.

1. Define your boundaries

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how often it is overlooked. With younger children, it's important for the child to know exactly where you stand. For older children, you certainly don't want to give them ammunition for the classic "I didn't know that's what you were talking about" excuse. So for starters, pinpoint what you want in terms of screen time so you can then explain it in palpable terms to your kids.

2. Make limits part of the routine

If you're having trouble making a general time frame stick — such as no more than two hours of TV per day — try breaking up screen time and incorporating it into your daily agenda. So for example, you might allow your kids to tune in for half an hour after breakfast and lunch and an hour after dinner in the early evening. When kids get used to the schedule, they'll start to accept the TV time parameters as just another part of your household routine and, therefore, a fact of life.

3. Enforce boundaries

Yes, this one is tough. Any parent who has experienced the wrath of a 2-year-old in the middle of an interrupted Bubble Guppies marathon understands just how vexing enforcing screen time boundaries can be (am I right?). But kids have to learn to understand there are consequences to crossing boundaries — that TV time is a privilege, and that privilege is earned. If your kid is supposed to do their homework before afternoon cartoons and they don't, well, hold them accountable. A tantrum may ensue, but ultimately your child will learn to respect you (and by proxy, other authority figures) as well as the rules you put in place to protect them.

4. Don't confuse boundaries with punishments

Setting a boundary and enforcing it should never turn into going on the offensive in the face of an impending argument. Mom blogging guru Meghan Leahy sums this up in an on-point analogy: "A good fence that separates the child from a dangerous cliff does not come out and attack the child when the child runs into it. It just stands there. Being a fence. Holding strong. You need to be the fence. Hold strong, and resist the urge to attack."

5. Be the example you want your child to see

It's easy to pass the buck and point to other families or experts who make passing suggestions about how much screen time your child should have. But the strongest example your child will ever have is you. If they see you absorbed in the digital realm — watching TV, face in your phone, surfing the Internet, trolling Facebook — it will make it that much more tempting for them to follow suit. Be mindful of how much screen time you partake in around your children, and it'll make setting boundaries worlds easier in the long run.

This post was brought to you by Kids Zone brought to you by XFINITY.

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