Let’s face it. Our little ones want to be just like us, so they copy what we do and have a strong desire to explore the things we use on a daily basis, be it the pots and pans, our make-up bag, the remote control and, above all else, our smartphones. The fact that most of us are addicted to our smartphones can make our toddlers downright obsessed.
You’ve likely read about the negative effects of screen time on children, and you thus try your best to keep it to a minimum. You are right to do so, for the latest research shows that smartphone use can impair children’s development, can lead to behavior problems and can even be as addictive as a gram of cocaine in older children. What?!
Well-meaning articles tell you that if you don’t want your child staring at a screen, then you need to put down your devices as well. While this is excellent advice, we all know that it isn’t always possible. Perhaps there is an important phone call that we cannot ignore or an email that we absolutely must send out, and so on and so on. Here I will give you tips that work, but that are also reasonable in 2018.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
I know I said that my tips would be reasonable, but I had to start by saying that the less your toddler sees your smartphone, tablet or laptop, the less opportunity they have to use it.
My best advice here is to try your best to keep your smartphone accessible to you but out of sight for your kiddo. Keep it in your pocket or your bra or inside of your purse or diaper bag, behind a pillow or under a book, etc. Get creative with your hiding spots.
When possible, try to schedule calls and check email during nap time or after bedtime. I don’t know about you, but I can focus much better when I don’t have a Pookie pointing at my phone and screaming his head off. If you must answer a phone call during waking hours, try using speakerphone, headphones or better yet, wireless headphones so that you can take the call without having that sexy phone attached to your ear. When emailing or texting, voice recognition software can also prove quite helpful.
We’ve all been there. You tried my first set of tips, but I promised to be realistic, and I know that those don’t always work. So, despite your best efforts at hiding the coveted devices, your little dude or dudette has spotted the phone or tablet and may even have it in hand. What to do now.
Your go-to first option should be distraction. Take the device away, put it out of sight and offer another tantalizing toy. Is there such a thing? Hopefully. Try a kids toy smartphone, for example. This one has worked well for us. Keep it hidden until you suddenly need it. The best case scenario: your child falls for it! But if that doesn’t work (for me, this does not always work!), try some other distractions. Tickle her, play “flying baby,” say the word “smoosh” over and over (Pookie loves this for some reason). Do that thing that always gets her to laugh. Develop your arsenal of distractions.
If none of these work, offer her something a bit more exciting. Perhaps it’s time to get outside. If possible, head to a playground or just step outside for a walk. I hope for you and your kid’s sake that the playground trumps the iPhone.
It isn’t always possible to drop everything and go to a playground. Maybe it’s raining or freezing outside. When all else fails, you may find it helpful to give them extremely limited “use” of an old smartphone. I have an old iPhone 5 lying around, and I occasionally turn to it for help when I’ve tried all of my other tricks (and if I’m feeling lazy). I keep the wi-fi turned off and lower the brightness of the screen and allow him to play with it for no more than 5 minutes. This way, he gets to use that bright and shiny object but quickly realizes it’s not all it’s cracked up to be without FaceTime or videos. He most often abandons it before his 5 minutes have passed.
Perhaps you’re worried about research that recommends strictly forbidding screen time for children under 2, and you would rather not give her even those 5 minutes. Then it may be time to practice some good old tough love. Take the device away if she has gotten ahold of it. She may cry, but just hold her and explain to her why it is not allowed, tell her you love her and move on.
As our lives become increasingly intertwined with our smartphones, it will become even more difficult to limit screen time. Stay strong, and help your fellow parents by sharing your own tips in the comments below!