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12 tips for getting your kids off their screens

Screen time is just a fact of life these days. But most of us have days when we’ve struggled to unglue them from their screens. Here are some tips from parents on getting them off their screens and into the real world. 

Tip #1: “It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen”

The first thing you need to know when you want to “wean” your kids off their devices is that it’s not going to be as simple as chucking their device away and the problem will magically go away.  

Try to think of it like potty training – it takes patience, ups and downs, team work, a sense of humour and lots of encouragement.

And potty training was worth it for a life without nappies, right? Think of a world where your child actually hears you when you say their name, doesn’t act up as much, and plays outside! Amazing.

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Tip #2: Keep them busy

If you’ve ever lost your phone, you’ll know how strange it feels to suddenly be without it. Your kid will be feeling the same thing when they're going from screen-life to real life.

The key is to distract, distract, distract. You need to swap out their device for something that’s fun. Luckily, what kids love the most is spending time with you. We have loads of ideas for screen-free activities.

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Tip #3: Put your phone away too

You’re the most important person in your child’s life. If you’re always glued to your screen it just makes sense they will want to do it too.

You might be surprised at how nice it is to spend time together when you’re not both scrolling through your phones all night!  

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Tip #4: Mix up their routines

If your kids are glued to the screen, a good idea to “wean” them off is to do fun things that take them completely away from their devices – like running around at the park or going on a treasure hunt to find everything in your neighbourhood that starts with "R".

If it's raining outside, you can do things like asking if they can write a comic strip about their best day ever.

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Tip #5: Keep them busy before dinner

Sometimes the kids are on the screens because we need to get on with things around the house. A sneaky trick to kill two birds with one stone is to do things like getting them to help you put the dinner on.

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Tip #6: Make meal times device-free zones

If you get a chance during the week, try to have a meal together. It doesn’t have to be a big deal – even a bowl of cereal or a sandwich is enough! Make your meals device-free zones and talk with each other about your days. Here are some questions you can ask if all you can get out of your little one is “fine”!

We have loads of cheap and kid-friendly recipes they’ll love. If you want to know what you can ask your child to do in the kitchen, we’ve got tips here, and more tips on making housework look fun here.

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Tip #7: Swap the iPad for a Play Bag

One way to keep them busy and happy when you’re out and about is to swap out the iPad with a “special bag” of fun things they can play with. It might be stickers, paper, pens, small cars, Lego people, or card games for older kids. You can get them to help you choose what goes in it so it includes some of their favourite toys.

If you want something that's ready to go, your ReadWriteCount Activity bag has lots of free things that will keep them happy while you're out and about.

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Tip #8: Make bedtime story time

Snuggling up to read a book together at night helps get them into a routine and gives you both some time to unwind.

It’s a good idea to keep devices out of their room at night – it will only keep them awake and make them grumpy the next day.

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Tip #9: Make family time fun

Put your tech away and have a family games nights. These games don’t cost a thing and the Read Write Count bags are full of free games you can play with the whole family.

The more fun they have without their devices, the less they’ll keep nagging at you for them.

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Tip #10: Work out your disaster zones

Does your child get grumpy if their screen-time goes on too long? Does their behaviour get better without screen time? Sometimes it can pay to see if you can just cut it out. You could not watch shows during the week, and they can catch-up at the weekend if they want to. 

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Tips to limit their time online

Tip #11: Set a countdown

  1. One way to reduce the chances of your kid going into monster mode when you take their device away is to set some family rules. That includes a time limit - e.g. 30 minutes.
  2. Tell your kids how long they’ve had and count down until the time is up.
  3. Try not to “give in” and let them spend longer. If they know that you won’t budge in, eventually they’ll stop kicking up a fuss.
  4. Bonus tip: Focus on the activity that comes after the screentime so that your child isn’t getting more and more wound up: e.g. 5 minutes until we’re going to the park!

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Tip #12: Keep your cool

  1. We’ve all been there – they know their time is up, but they still have a strop when you try to take it away. It can be hard to keep your cool in moments like that.
  2. Sometimes it pays to take a big deep breath before you do anything to remind yourself that your wee one is going through a BIG change. After all, if someone came along and took our phones away, we’d probably feel a bit grumpy too!
  3. It’s fine to give yourself 5 minutes for both of you to calm down a bit,  and come back to it when you feel like you can deal with it.
  4. When you feel calmer, let them know you understand they’re upset. Give them a hug and move on to the next activity to distract them from “screen withdrawal”.

Here are some more tips from parents on dealing with those  “huffs and puffs”!

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How much screen time is too much?

You’re the expert on your child – you’ll probably already know how much screen time is too much for them. Just try to get away with as much as you can manage. Lots of play and plenty of fresh air helps kids to grow up happy and healthy.

Keep an eye on them when they're online

1. Talk to them about what they watch

Talk to your child about using screens and what they watch. A change in their behaviour (e.g. being grumpy) can mean they’re distressed. Make sure they know they can speak to you or another adult if they’re worried about something they see on screen or social media.

2. Set parental controls

Many internet plans and apps will have parental controls so they won’t be exposed to inappropriate content from their device.

3. Don’t over share

Talk to them about sharing photos and information online, and how these can be changed or mis-used by other people. Before you upload any pictures of your child, ask for their permission. If in doubt, don’t upload!

4. Find out your school’s screen time policy

If your child is at school, find out if there is a screen time policy. That could help you limit the time online.

You can do it!

We hope that these tips for sneaking in ways to get them doing other things – like getting fresh air, helping you around the house and playing with you will get them off their screens. Good luck everyone – we’ve got your back!

From the parents

"My top tip would be that your kids don’t always have to be constantly entertained! They will find something to do that lets them use their imagination and creativity." – Kirsty

"I find screens make behaviour way worse than it should be! Having a variety of games you can play together can help." - Sarah

Advice and support on online safety

NSPCC

Advice and help in understanding online risks and how to keep children safe in the digital environment.
https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/ 

Childline

Childline offers advice and support to young people on a range of issues.
https://www.childline.org.uk/ 

UK Safer Internet Centre

Online safety tips, advice and resources to help children and young people stay safe online.
https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/ 

Thinkuknow

Advice on how to keep young people safe online.
https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/ 

ParentZone

Resources for families, to help them meet the challenges of the digital age.
https://parentzone.org.uk/parents 

Anti-Bullying Campaign Support Centre

Advice and support for a variety of bullying issues, including cyberbullying.
https://www.antibullyingpro.com/support-centre 

Get Safe Online

Advice on how to protect yourself, your computer and mobile from fraud, viruses and other online problems.
https://www.getsafeonline.org/ 

Internet Matters

Advice on helping children benefit from technology and the internet safely and smartly
https://www.internetmatters.org/

Advice on reporting harmful online content

CEOP

National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection command offers advice and is a reporting hub if you have been a victim of sexual online abuse or if you are worried this is happening to someone you know.
https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/ 

Report Harmful Content

Offering advice on reporting routes of social media providers, to remove online harmful content
https://reportharmfulcontent.com/ 

Upstream

Advice to adults and communities in Scotland on preventing child sexual abuse.
https://www.stopitnow.org.uk/stop-it-now-scotland/upstream-online-resource/