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Dr. Becky’s tips for setting screen time boundaries during the holidays are a lifesaver

Girl on ipad at Christmas
Halfpoint/Getty

As the upcoming holiday break from school inches nearer, there isn’t a parent in existence who isn’t completely consumed by the neverending to-do list that grows longer every December. Because we’re so bogged down with buying presents, attending gatherings, organizing gift exchanges, panic-buying for the handful of people we completely forgot about, and of course, figuring out The Food Situation—it’s easy for us to disregard things we normally wouldn’t. Like screen time regulation.

Because let’s face it, when we’re busy juggling…well, everything, it makes things a tiny bit easier on us when our kids are occupied with slime videos on YouTube kids. And when they’re home from school in the middle of winter for two weeks with nothing to do, a little tablet time can turn into an entire tablet day if we’re not laying down some boundaries around technology.

But that doesn’t mean cracking down completely—we all know how that goes down, anyway. Dr. Becky and Amazon paired up to help families learn how to work with technology this holiday season instead of against it.

“The biggest screen time pitfall actually comes from a lack of clarity between a parent and a kid around what we’re doing for screen time during vacations,” Dr. Becky Kennedy tells Motherly. “And for kids, when there’s a big gap between their expectation and their reality, they become very unable to deal with the emotions.”

Dr. Becky says figuring out what the boundaries and expectations are right off the bat to prepare everyone.

“When you start out with clarity, like ‘Hey, here’s what’s gonna happen,’ you’re giving clarity to your kid,” she explains. “Of course there could be some struggles, but you’re not going to see the huge issues that come from a lack of communication and unclear expectations.”

She recommends writing down a few “rules” on a piece of paper or a dry-erase board and keeping them posted in an area where everyone has access to them—like the fridge or a family bulletin board.

“Rules on a wall that you do not follow aren’t that useful,” she says. “But that’s not to say a set of guidelines or rules on a wall aren’t helpful. Because kids cannot hold that much information in their brain. They just can’t. And honestly, adults can’t either. Visual reminders always help kids feel more in control.”

She encourages parents to look at screen time regulation as a problem you’re trying to solve with your child together. (But when it comes to long car rides or plane rides, it’s OK for those screen time rules to go out the window. You just have to remind them that every day of their holiday break won’t have a six-hour car ride to Grandma’s, and on those days the guidelines still apply.)

It’s also important for parents to remember that technology doesn’t have to be mindless or time-wasting. There are plenty of educational and engaging apps and games for kids.

“On the Amazon Fire dashboard for instance, you can set an educational goal,” Dr. Becky continues. “You could watch educational videos or read books on the tablet. I would say parents should make that extra effective, because we never want screen time to feel like a punishment.”

Dr. Becky Screen Time Tips

  1. Define screen time boundaries in advance, and learn how to use your devices’ features to help you adhere to those boundaries. When kids have their own device, they can take ownership, learn independence, and explore on their own terms without feeling like parents are dictating their every move. Take advantage of parental control settings to curate the best digital experience for your kid. With so many devices and tools on the market, I’ve found that Amazon Kids and the included parental controlsmerges the necessities with safety, and simplifies creating screen time boundaries with helpful daily educational goals, age filters, time limits for both weekdays and weekends, and device bedtimes.

  2. Encourage screen time learning before screen time playing. Parents can find meaningful and thoughtful ways to engage in technology with their kids. Amazon Kids’ Learn First” settings in the parent dashboard allows parents to set educational goals for kids to meet, like reading or watching educational videos, before they unlock entertainment like shows and games. For my family, we set a 30-minute reading goal that must be accomplished before my kids can access any shows or games – good news is they love reading so they never complain about this rule.

  3. Anticipate and manage meltdowns around screen time. Putting an end to screen time can and will lead to conflict and meltdowns – accepting that and doing the work in advance to prepare is part of the process. When screen time is over, it’s important to remain calm, use a confident, sturdy tone, and empathize with your kids. In my house, screen time is over at 6 P.M. every night, which is programmed into their Fire Kids tablet. I also set a reminder on my own phone for 5:59pm, so I can both warn my kids that screen time is almost over and prepare myself with my personal mantra on ending screen time.