Did you know a recent study by Genius of Play found that most parents spend as much time on their devices as they do with their kids?

I have to admit it is often true for me too. I feel a constant urge to look down at my phone to respond to my most recent text message, answer an email, or check for updates on Instagram and Facebook. It sometimes feels like an addiction.

Many parents in the survey felt the same way. Genius of Play conducted a OnePoll survey of 2,000 parents of school-aged children (between 5 and 18 years old) to learn about the screen time usage of both the parents and children. 62% of the parents admitted to spending too much time on their phone while with their kids. And 69% of the parents feel addicted to their phone.

Graphic credit: The Genius of Play

The more I read about the study the more it hit home and scared me a bit. In the beginning of the year I had a goal to cut down on my screen time while with my family. It worked for a month or two, but slowly I’ve gone back to my old habits.

I want to commit to doing better. My kids deserve it and so do I. Here are 6 ways I am going to put the phone away and focus on my family:

  1. Read with my kids for at least 30 minutes everyday. To be honest, I strive to read more than the 30 minute minimum when possible. When you’re reading you can’t stare at your phone. Your kids are getting your full attention and the valuable gift of literacy and a love of books. I especially like reading STEAM books with my kids to encourage their love of all things STEM. You can find all the STEAM books I have reviewed on the blog here.
  2. Do STEAM activities with my kids. This is great especially when your kids are young like mine, they can’t do the STEAM projects alone. You have to be actively participating and helping them the whole time. This can be up to an hour of undivided attention with the kids. They are learning something new, having fun, and getting valuable attention from you in the process. You can try one of the experiments I’ve shared, play with a STEAM toy together, or try a kit, such as one from KiwiCo. The subscription kits are great because you know you are going to have a new project to work on together and get that quality time together every month.
  3. Ask my kids about their day and really listen. Put your phone down, look the your child in the eye, and each of you share about your day. Talk about things that went well, things that didn’t go as planned, something funny, something sad – when you share these things with each other you’ll both benefit. Now that my son is in kindergarten and gone most of the day, this is something I’ve really focused on doing with him everyday. I’m lucky that he loves telling me about his day, and I’ve learned so much about his new school, his friends, and what he’s learning in our talks. Talking with my son for 5-10 minutes about his day usually ends up being the highlight of my day. I really love hearing what he has to say! My daughter is starting to share more about her day with me too, and I love it!
  4. Sing together. We love asking Alexa to play songs and sing along to them. It has become fun for us to listen as Alexa has struggled to understand my now 3 year old. She has been talking to Alexa for the last year, but only recently has Alexa understood her and done what she requested. Her excitement when Alexa plays the song she asks for is too cute! We all sing and dance along to songs like “Let it go,” and a new favorite is “Old Town Road,” because my son is learning it at school.
  5. Make meal time a screen-free time. I’ve made it a house rule that no screens are allowed at the dinner table. This includes TV, and cell phones. I have to admit, that this doesn’t happen every single meal. But we do our best to follow this rule as much as possible. I think it makes a difference in my kids when we talk to them and focus on them while they are eating. They share more, eat more, and we are all happier. Give each other your full attention during meals and see what happens!
  6. Start shutting devices down early. I started the year with the goal of turning off my devices at 9pm. It was great while it lasted, I was more productive in the evenings, and went to bed earlier too. Now, I’ve regressed to mindlessly scrolling Facebook and Instagram until 10:30pm or later. I’m blurry-eyed and exhausted when I drag myself off the couch to go to bed, and feel unaccomplished at the end of my night. I want to take that time back again, and recommit to shutting my devices down at least an hour before my bedtime. This can be challenging when I am using my device less around my kids. I feel l need more time in the evening to catch up when I use it less during the day. But I also can get used to not seeing every single update on Facebook and Instagram. Do I really need to know that baby Sally (whose mom I haven’t seen since high school) ate a new food today? My answer is no, I don’t. Sleep, my kids, and time with my husband are more important to me than checking Facebook constantly (although I need to remind myself of this more often…).
Graphic credit: The Genius of Play

The study also asked parents about their kid’s screen time usage. 83% of parents surveyed felt that screen time and technology are necessary when raising kids in this day and age. I agree with this; kids need to be competent in technology growing up in the 21st century.

While many parents agree that technology is important for kids growing up today, the study found that 74% of the parents surveyed worried their kid spends too much time staring at a screen. To help limit screen time, 65% of the parents in the survey set a limit on their child’s screen time, and that limit averaged around 2 hours per day.

Graphic credit: The Genius of Play

The study found that over half the parents surveyed use screen time to keep a child occupied (for instance while you are out to dinner at a restaurant), as a reward, or to help a child calm down when they are upset. 63% of parents take away screen time as a punishment for their children.

Graphic credit: The Genius of Play

How do we balance limiting screen time for our children in a day and age when most parents agree it is a necessary part of children’s lives? This is a tough question, that I think will differ from family to family and child to child.

I’ve found my children do better with little to no screen time. For a few years, they were unable to understand limits, so when I tried to turn the TV off after 30 minutes my kids would throw a major tantrum. They were not satisfied with just a short time watching their TV show or game. So I often did not let them partake at all.

Lately, they have been doing better with screen time limits, so I’ve been letting them watch one TV show per day if they have earned it by doing their chores and with good behavior.

When I let my kids watch TV or play on an iPad, I prefer for them to watch educational shows (like the cartoons on PBS), or play educational games such as those teaching letters, counting, words, etc…but I can’t promise that they only watch the educational programing. My daughter’s current favorite TV show is “Paw Patrol.”

Since we do limit screen time at my house, I need other ways to keep my kids occupied. Here are 6 ways my kids play independently without screens:

  1. Coloring. My kids LOVE to color. We buy lots of coloring books and both of my kids can spend hours coloring in them.
  2. Playing with STEAM toys. My kids especially love building block toys. They spend most of their free time every day playing with some kind of block. We have Lincoln Logs, magnetic tiles, Legos, Duplos, and connector sets. Although these toys can seem like they take up a lot of space and are messy to have around, for us it’s totally worth it. My kids play with all of them regularly.
  3. Playing dress up. Both my kids love to dress up. My daughter is in a princess phase. My son loves to dress in superhero costumes. They have costumes from Halloween and birthdays anyway, so why not wear them just for fun? It is so adorable for me to watch them dress up, and they have a blast putting on their fun clothes and costumes and using their imaginations pretending to be someone else.
  4. Reading. We have lots and lots of picture books. Although neither of my kids can read full books themselves yet, they both like to spend time alone with books “reading”. They look at the pictures, and have many of the books memorized so they “read,” or more like recite, the stories to themselves.
  5. Play-dough and sensory kits. We’ve gotten a few different fun play-dough sensory kits. These are awesome ways to keep kids occupied and let them use their imaginations to build and play. I like how these kits have no rules or instructions, so the children get to develop independent thinking and imaginative skills.
  6. Outdoor play. We have bubbles, chalk, balls, garden tools, and more for my kids to play with outside. When the weather is not too hot or too cold, they can spend hours outside playing. We have to limit it to shorter time frames when the weather is too warm. My kids will often play together in the backyard while I’m cooking dinner. They blow bubbles, draw pictures on our back patio with chalk, search for bugs in the garden, or play baseball and soccer.

I hope this post let you know you’re not alone if you feel like you spend too much time on your phone when you’re with your kids. I think many of us are guilty of this. We don’t have to cut out screen time completely when the kids are around, but I hope I showed you a few ways you can cut back on screen time and increase your interaction with your kids, while helping them develop their STEAM skills.

How do you limit screen time for yourself and your kids? What other ways do you use to let your kids have screen free independent play?

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