Balance kids' digital and physical realities

Some experts say that a "screen time limit" for children is no longer realistic in our hyper-connected world.

But too much screen time has been linked to lower academic grades, as well as developmental issues, such as obesity, sleep disorders and attention problems.

Just as children need a balanced diet of nutrition, they also need a balance between digital and physical realities.

Parents can come up with a family framework for managing digital media and for helping children develop their own sense of self-control, especially in this instant-information, instant-attention digital world.

1. Convince. First, children must be convinced that too much screen time can be harmful for them.

2. Agree. Come up with a magic number of a screen time limit that both parents and children can agree on - for example, two hours a day - and when and where to use digital devices - for example, no phones at the dinner table.

3. Give and take. The agreement should be mutual. Children are also bothered by parents constantly checking their phones. Parents should agree to limit their screen time around their children, especially when parents just get home from work. Children want and need some undivided time with their parents.

4. Gamify. Make it fun, empowering and rewarding. Give proper incentives as well as penalties for not following agreed rules. That goes for parents, too.

But don't make more game time an incentive or less game time a penalty. This puts game time on a pedestal and makes children want it even more. Instead, a mobile-free outing with dad could be a good incentive.

5. Exercise mind muscles. Self-control is something that takes practice. Before children turn on the digital media, remind them of the agreed time limit, have them set an alarm, encourage them to plan the best use of their time, including wrapping up and shutting down on time with a smile and without drama or panic.

6. Be persistent. Keep track of family performance consistently.

7. Fun alternative activities. Find fun physical activities for the children, such as sports that they can find as attractive as digital media.

For instance, parents can set a 1-1 matching rule: If their children play video games for an hour, they should play outdoor sports for an hour as well.

Yuhyun Park (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2015, with the headline 'Balance kids' digital and physical realities'. Print Edition | Subscribe