Taming the square-eyed monster: Holiday screen-time survival tips

The long lazy days of summer holidays are just around the corner. Don’t let screen-time battles get in the way of your kids’ good times - or yours either ;)

Summer means freedom. Freedom from schedules, exams and uniforms. Freedom from “get in the car, right now please!” and “have you finished your homework yet?” Summer should be a time for kids to find their own rhythm instead of marching to the grown-ups’ beat.  

Problem is, free time can all too easily translate to screen-time, warns Family Zone cyber expert and clinical psychologist Jordan Foster, director of ySafe.

6-hour increase

“From observations I’ve made working in schools and clinical practice, my conservative estimate would be at least a 6-hour daily increase is typical,” Foster says. Because most children spend about two hours of leisure time on devices during the school year, that blows out to a grand total of eight hours a day during the holidays.

Working mums and dads face the greatest challenges at this time. “If parents aren’t around the house supervising and enforcing screen-time limits, the situation can really spin out of control. When kids are bored, they seldom spend time brainstorming what else they can do to quell their boredom, when technology is so accessible and engaging.”

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Setting screen-time limits is important, but having the ability to enforce them is crucial. And that’s where parental controls like Family Zone come in. With the Family Zone Box, parents can manage screen-time for each and every device that connects to the home WiFi - gaming consoles included. Adult content will be blocked and restrictions on social media and other apps can be applied as parents see fit.

If your children have their own 4G data, adding the Mobile Zone app to the mix will allow you to do the same for their mobile devices, no matter where they roam this summer.

Top 10 tips

But technology alone - no matter how sophisticated - can’t solve the whole problem. So what else can you do? We asked child development specialist, busy mum and Family Zone cyber expert Dr. Kristy Goodwin for her top 10 tips.

  1. Create a media management plan before the holidays begin. Set firm rules around what, when, where and how much screen-time each child is allowed. Don’t forget to clarify with whom it’s okay to connect, too. Consider doing this in the form of a written contract, like this one, prepared by Family Zone.

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  2. Take time to help your child find high-quality, age-appropriate content. The research is clear that “screen-time ain’t screen-time.” Interactive, educational apps and videos can be a wonderful addition to your child’s holiday fun. Mindlessly scrolling through social media, not so much.

  3. Enforce the 20/20/20 rule to prevent eye damage. Every 20 minutes, your child should take a 20-second break away from the screen, look at something 20 feet away (that’s about six metres), and blink at least 20 times.

  4. Be exact in your instructions about cut-off points. For example, “You can watch two episodes of PlaySchool, and then turn off the TV” or “You can get to level five in the game, and then you need to turn it off.”

  5. Give warnings before screen-time ends. Called “cognitive priming,” these simple verbal reminders get kids prepared for switch-off - thus preventing the dreaded techno-tantrum.

  6. Get involved in what your child is doing online. This is not only educational - it communicates that we value them and what they’re doing, and can prevent an “us v. them” situation from developing.

  7. Establish no-tech zones. Ideally, all children should use screens in publicly accessible rooms. I strongly recommend that parents keep bedrooms, bathrooms, meal zones and play areas device-free.

  8. Rope off tech-free times. Digital kids need “green time” - that is, time out of doors, in nature. Make sure all screens are switched off an hour before bedtime (ideally 90 minutes before, if you can manage it).

  9. Don’t use screen-time as a reward - or, for that matter, as a punishment. It’s a short-term fix, and it sends the wrong messages.

  10. Use parental controls to ensure kids aren’t accessing adult content. I personally use, and recommend, Family Zone. It keeps kids safe, and it also encourages mums and dads to talk to their kids about their online activity.


Happy Holidays - both online and off - from Family Zone! 


Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, school holidays

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