More and more, research is showing that limiting screen time for your toddler is a good idea. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests just one hour of screen time per day after age 2. They add that screen time should be high-quality programming, ideally with a caregiver joining in.
You can control what happens in your home, but what about on playdates? What happens when other parents don’t share your concerns about limiting screen time? We spoke with Speech-Language Pathologist and Social Communications expert Mandy Alvarez to gather some of her thoughts on how to handle situations where screen time beliefs differ.
How to Navigate Differences in Screen Time Beliefs with Friends
According to Alvarez, “When children use electronics at playdates, it inhibits their ability to interact, which during the toddler stage is so important because they’re just beginning to pay attention to other children during play. There are subtle verbal and nonverbal cues happening when little ones play that are critical for social development, and they are easily missed if one or more child is using electronics.”
Still, she understands how tough it can be to assert your beliefs when you’re trying to socialize and make friends with other parents and caregivers, too. “It can be a tricky situation, especially as a new parent, because you want to connect with other parents and may feel afraid of pushing them away with strict rules around electronics. Finding like-minded parents is ideal, but that can be hard when you’re just trying to meet other parents and build a support system,” says Alvarez.
But you don’t need to push your feelings to the side. Here are some tips that can help you keep playdates intact without sacrificing your rules:
Be the host and explain your rules. When you’re the playdate host, you can set up several electronics-free games and activities to engage the little ones. They and their parents or caregivers will probably be too immersed in the fun to break out the screens, but if they do, you can always kindly explain: “We try to save our screen time for after playdates so the kids can enjoy each other!”
Ask about other host policies. Ask other playdate hosts if they allow electronics. You can always choose to skip the playdate or use the opportunity to have a friendly discussion with the other parent or caregiver about your feelings.
Find balance. If you don’t mind a few minutes of supervised screen time during a playdate, you might suggest that you all watch an educational program or play a learning game together. Or, have the kids watch a video that gets them up, moving, and dancing around. Alvarez suggests alternating “between interacting with the other adults and getting on the floor to engage your child in non-electronic play” to make sure you’re getting some much-needed adult interaction, too!
Suggest electronics-free playdates. The more you engage little ones, the easier it will be to keep the temptation of screens away. Alvarez says that suggesting playdates that don’t involve electronics. Think fun outside the home, like a children’s museum, the park, an outdoor picnic, or the zoo.
Leave your schedule open. If your toddler is going to another home where you know electronics use is likely, you might consider switching around your typical screen schedule to accommodate. For example, allow your toddler to have supervised fun with his friend as they play a learning app, but avoid electronics use for the rest of the day. Try to make sure he’s still engaging in electronics-free activities and socializing while he’s there.
Navigating screen time can be challenging for many parents and caregivers, so don’t be too hard on yourself. The more your toddler spends time with peers, the more opportunities he has to socialize and cooperate with others, even if screens are occasionally around. Try your best to stick to your values, and don’t be afraid to share your screen time limits with other parents.