This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada, which closed in 2021.

How To Cut Screen Time For Kids, From Parents Who Actually Did It

It can be about breaking your own habits as much as theirs.
How exactly do you put your kids on a digital detox?
How exactly do you put your kids on a digital detox?

By now we all know we're supposed to curb how much time our kids spend in front of screens. But that's a lot easier said than done when you have young kids hooked on "Paw Patrol," dinner to cook, showers to take, and you occasionally enjoy sitting down.

There have been doctor's warnings, calls for limits, and numerous studies on the detrimental effects of screen time in kids. Just last week, the World Health Organization issued its own first-ever guidance, saying children under age one should have no screen time at all, and children under age five shouldn't watch more than one hour a day.

And earlier this week (which also happens to be Screen-Free Week), Canadian researchers found that a healthy lifestyle — including meeting current recommendations of no more than one hour of screen time a day for kids ages two and up — is linked to better mental health in kids.

WATCH: No screen time for babies, says WHO. Story continues below.

OK, experts. We get it. Truly. But as a parent, how exactly do you put your kids on a digital detox? Will they melt down without their daily calming jaunt into the world of "Peppa Pig"? And can busy parents still get some downtime without the lure of screens to make kids sit still? ASKING FOR A FRIEND.

To get answers, we talked to three Ottawa moms who put their kids on digital detoxes about how they did it.

1. Go cold turkey

The easiest way to cut screen time from your kids' lives is to just do it, says Véronique Bergeron. She has nine kids, ages 23, 22, 19, 17, 13, 10, seven (twins), and five. So she's managed quite a few screen purges over the years and knows there's no gentle way to pull the plug.

"If they know TV is still an option, they will campaign until they get it," Bergeron, 45, told HuffPost Canada.

She does a digital detox every few years, when her kids start having behaviour issues related to screen time, like squabbling over shows or having meltdowns when it's time to turn the TV off. And she goes cold turkey rather than setting limits.

Bergeron put her family's TV in a box in a box for their first digital detox with her older kids.
Bergeron put her family's TV in a box in a box for their first digital detox with her older kids.

"Black and white is much easier for them to handle than grey," Bergeron said.

Their last purge was two years ago, when they went completely screen free for six months. After that, Bergeron started allowing weekly family movie nights, and then slowly allowed more screen use with limits. But she is planning another detox phase soon.

"When we see our kids' behaviour going down the tank ... it's time."

2. Tell them why

You can reason with kids, even if they don't like it. So when Jocelyn realized her three-year-old son was watching seven or eight hours of TV a week, and was using it to regulate his emotions, she told him why she was cutting his screen time.

"I told my son one day that TV is bad for his brain and that the fact that he felt so strongly that he 'needed' it was actually a sign that it wasn't good for him. He fought it for three days and then was absolutely fine about it," Jocelyn, who asked for her last name to be withheld to protect her family's privacy, told HuffPost Canada.

"Our rule right now is no TV at home so that is easy for everyone to follow."

3. Set an example

It might actually be harder for the parents to cut screens than the kids. But it's important to set an example with your own behaviour, says April Frazer.

Let your kids see you doing a wide range of activities.
Let your kids see you doing a wide range of activities.

My kids see me read, colour in my colouring book, draw, check things off my list, workout," Frazer, who has four kids ages six to three months, told HuffPost Canada.

"I have days I struggle with spending too much time on my phone so I have set times I don't touch it."

Jocelyn also makes a point to read and do activities as a family.

"We go to the library and buy up tons of used books and they are everywhere in our house. We also go outside more," she said.

4. Realize it might be more about your habits than theirs

Your kids might be just as happy to run around the living room, glitter-bomb your house via arts and crafts, or "help" you make dinner — but are you? There's an adjustment for parents as well, says Bergeron.

For instance, she relied on screen time to keep her kids occupied so she could make dinner, and that was her biggest concern when her husband suggested a detox.

"I can't! I need that time when they're contained!" she recalled feeling.

But eventually, she realized that if she added up the time she had to spend managing and monitoring her kids' screen time use, including fights and tantrums, she wasn't actually gaining any time by parking them in front of screens.

You might just need to relax your own standards about what dinner looks like (and what your kitchen looks like afterward), the state of your house, and your own anxiety about letting your kids just play, Bergeron added.

WATCH: How to go on a digital detox. Story continues below.

If you rely on screens to enjoy a hot cup of coffee in the morning, swap that time with books, Frazer suggests.

"I have lots of tricks up my sleeve ... let's say if I just want to enjoy my hot coffee and read a book in the morning I ask the kiddos if they want their coffee (which is a cup of raisins or cranberries or dried apricots) while they look or read books."

And when you need a break? Take one, says Jocelyn.

"I set him up with something to do and I tell him when I will be done. I keep it short, though," she said.

5. Keep them busy and give them options

So, suddenly your kids aren't watching four episodes of "Paw Patrol" per day ... now what?

Frazer says it's rare for her kids to say they're bored. They play outside every day, read, scribble in their journals, and help her with chores. She keeps a craft cupboard stocked with toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, markers, glue, googly eyes, and pipe cleaners. And in a pinch, she knows that Lego, Play-Doh, or silly putty will keep them busy.

"If you need a break, give them a choice of meditation with you or a quiet activity. They will feel lucky they get to choose to do an adult activity. Have fun with it," Frazer said.

Jocelyn, who is currently on leave from her job as a research scientist, fills their days with museums, classes, and time in nature. And after Bergeron cut screens for her kids, she made sure they all had new helmets so they could ride their bikes to the park. She also stopped worrying about messes from arts and crafts.

"You have to adapt," she said.

Also on HuffPost:

Suggest a correction
This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada. Certain site features have been disabled. If you have questions or concerns, please check our FAQ or contact