Local families turn to parent coaches to help in screen time battle

Moving a child away from their favorite screens can be incredibly difficult. Some families are even turning to parent coaches to help them. A local coach told Boston 25 News there are ways to stop that battle over screen time.

For the Khalil kids, free time often means screen time.

"If he could, he'd be on it all day. If he could," said Rachel Khalil.  The Stoughton mother said her two boys, 8-year-old Charlie and 4-year-old Matthew, love watching videos on their Ipads.  "The first thing they grab is their Ipads and we actually have them on the chargers in our bedroom."

Khalil works from home and said for busy parents like her it can feel like an exercise in futility to try to limit her boys' screen time.

"I've tried turning them off before. But I'm in the kitchen making lunches or I'm doing breakfast and my husband is trying to get out of the house and I'm trying to get them dressed, so it's almost a distraction for them.  Eat your breakfast, here's your Ipad, which is bad,"  Khalil said.

Beth Greenawalt is a certified parent coach in Milton. She said the computer industry is creating apps that are tough to put down. It's called persuasive design.

"It's not as easy as asking your child to stop, play outside and come in.  There's another level of connectedness. These computers asking you to engage in that make it much more difficult for you to turn off and stop,"  Greenawalt said.

But Greenawalt said you can make technology work for you, rather than against you.

"There are so many resources out there. Cable provider, phone provider, Apple screen time balance app. You can set up parameters where you can set the time when your child is allowed to be on these particular devices, the amount of time, so it stops that nagging and when it's turned off… it's off,"  Greenawalt said.

She recommends three basic rules:

  • No screens in the morning.
  • No screens an hour before bed
  • And be a good role model:  Put your phone away, too.

"No screens at the dinner table.  Everyone holds that boundary. It doesn't work for you to say, do as I  say, not as I do,"  Greenawalt said.

Now that school is back in session, Greenawalt said this is a perfect time for parents to establish some new ground rules.

"The best thing you can do is to go cold turkey for a week. Absolutely no screens anywhere. Nobody," she said.

Greenawalt also said being bored isn't such a bad thing for kids. They might even create some memories.

"That's what you remember.  Not that text or that Instagram post.  It's that adorable little interaction or that funny story. That as a parent warms your heart,"  Greenawalt said.

If you're not comfortable hiring a coach, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers some guidelines.

They recommend that children younger than 18 months avoid all use of screen media, other than video chatting.

For children ages two-to-five years old, limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programs.

For six and older, place consistent limits on screen time.