Nothing ignites a tantrum like wrestling an iPad from your child’s kung fu grip. It’s the plight of modern parenting, and if it’s happening to you, you’re in good company. In a recent study, 36 percent of parents surveyed said they argued daily with their kids about device use. Sixty-six percent of parents felt their child used a mobile device too much — and 52 percent of children agreed.
Despite set recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s not always easy to pull the plug. So we asked five doctors to share their own family secrets — tricks of the trade that eased screen wars in their personal households.
Screen time: a reward, not a right
“We have always been strict about screen time in our home,” says Dr. Ellen Rodarte, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “We reward our children with 20 minutes of screen time, twice a day, for getting their ‘work’ done. When they were younger, their work included playing quietly for a set amount of time. Now their work includes homework and chores. It seems like modern parenting is about setting these loving, firm limits — and backing it up with a bit of good old-fashioned bribery.”
The power of positive role modeling
“The biggest thing I try to do with my kids to limit screen time is to model good screen time behavior myself,” says Dr. Corrie Clay, a board-certified pediatrician affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “I don’t use a device at the dinner table. When my kids are talking to me, I put down my phone and listen to them. I read a lot of books, instead of playing on my phone or checking Facebook. So my kids know I do these things — and expect the same of them.”
Designating ‘screen-free’ days
“My biggest pet peeve with my kids is having to fight to get them off screens,” says Dr. Michal Goldberg, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “I find it more effective to have a regular ‘no weekday screen time’ policy, so we limit the device debate to Saturdays and Sundays. Then we do our best to limit their time during the weekends. We don’t own any game sets, and we use loss of screen time as a consequence. If they lose screen time, it’s a win-win for me.”
Screen time substitutions that really work
“Limiting screen time with our daughter has been a challenge,” says Dr. Lloyd Kuritsky, medical director at Sharp Community Medical Group. “There are times we just say, ‘OK, that’s enough screen time. It’s time to find something else to do.’ Interestingly, she often agrees. We find that offering to play a game with her or go for a bike ride as a substitute for screen time can be helpful. Turning off our own screens and getting involved in activities with her has made a big difference.”
Giving devices a ‘curfew’
“I have four children, and all of them have a deep affection for electronics,” says Dr. Yong Lee, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “So we put guidelines around them. First, when the kids come home from school, all cellphones are collected until homework, dinner and showers are done. Then at 9 o’clock, cellphones are collected again for bedtime. This system has worked really well for us. It gives each of them a greater incentive to get their homework finished.”