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Screen Sense | Navigating the how, when and why of screens for kids.

You have a rapidly approaching work deadline or an important phone call to make. Maybe you’re just out of steam and craving five minutes without the sounds of whining children dominating your living room. You cast aside the unsolicited advice from your most regimented mommy friend who says screens are never your friend and plop the kids in front of a TV. You think to yourself as guilt is already creeping in, “Only for a few.” Sound familiar? It does for Tampa toddler mom Lauren Rozyla-Wong. “Sometimes, I’m just exhausted and cave to my own rules. We’re all human. Sometimes, I’m just grateful we live in a world with Paw Patrol!”   

We want our children to be able to navigate real life and screens aren’t going anywhere. Screens are real life. “We want to capitalize on the benefit by utilizing these tools in moderation to get the best out of what they offer,” says Jennifer Walker. Walker is one of two nurse-moms known as “Moms on Call,” who have a loyal following of curious and new parents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations on screen time, which in part include avoiding screen time (other than video-chatting) for children younger than 18 months. Full AAP recommendations are listed here.

For older kids, Moms on Call suggest 20 minutes of screen time twice a day as you fold laundry or prepare dinner as a sweet spot. Also, don’t worry about those dreaded days of a long car ride when kids might watch a screen for hours. “They will be fine,” Walker assures. “Some days we have none and some days we use this tool to get to Grandpa’s house. When we get there, we will play outside and have that wonderful person-to-person contact.”    

Screens don’t have to be a total babysitter. Instead of looking something up on Google, use the smartphone to call an actual person. Show your children how to leave a message and enjoy the archaic anticipation of waiting for a response. Moms on Call encourage parents to use technology to explore something together. “We forget that we can use it to interact with one another,” Walker says. “Look for the day’s activities together. Preview the zoo on it and discuss what wonderful things you may see the next day when you travel there.”   

Keep screens out of the bedtime routine. That’s something Dr. Kristopher Kaliebe, University of South Florida Associate Professor of Psychiatry, can’t stress enough. “There’s a psychological arousal of doing these things before bed,” he says, adding that your child’s sleep will likely be interrupted and we all know how that story ends:  with a grumpy toddler sunrise to sundown the following day begging for more screen time to perpetuate the soured sleep-cycle. No, thank you!

Speaking of begging, let’s address what to do when your child wants too much screen time. By that I mean howling, stomping, gluing their tiny bodies to the ground and pleading for more as mommy and daddy put the tablet away on the bookshelf. You know exactly what I’m talking about. “Give them two pieces of information – the truth and what they can do about it,” Walker says. “When mommy says to put up the iPad, it’s time to turn it off. I know you like to watch it and you will figure out how to put it away without a fuss.” Of course, they will fuss. Terribly at first, but stick to it. “Kids learn by repetition and confidence. So, say that same thing every time in a confident way as they learn to put it away without a fuss.”   

Give yourself permission to release the guilt that often accompanies screen time. “Whatever you do, don’t be afraid,” Walker says. “Use screen time in moderation. Use it together and then go experience life in all its chaotic glory!”

Written by Ashley Glass Ashley Glass is a University of Florida graduate and journalist of almost 15 years, most of that time spent telling news stories right here in the Tampa Bay area. She’s right now tackling her most important job yet, being a mom to two kids under two years of age and she’s loving every second of the beautiful mess!    

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