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4 Tips for Parents to Manage Your Child’s Screen Time

Friday, July 7, 2017 -- Elaine Ho

How much tech is too much for kids? The CDC reports that kids ages 8 to 10 spend about 6 hours a day in front of some kind of screen using entertainment media. For 11 to 14 year-olds, that number jumps up to 9 hours a day. In the past, concerns about kids and screen time were limited to television consumption, and health specialists would recommend limiting TV time to 2 hours a day. How has that recommendation changed as desktops, laptops, and mobile devices have become our nearly constant companions?

According to Common Sense Education, a non-profit dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology, excessive screen time is associated with various negative outcomes, such as obesity, poor academic performance, aggressive behaviors, attention difficulties, lack of social skills, and inadequate sleep, not to mention the displacement of other healthy pursuits including physical, social, creative, or academic activities.

But, we know that managing screen time is not as simple as just setting time limits. As technology becomes more all-encompassing, screen time becomes less about pure entertainment and more of a necessity. Here are four tips to help your child build healthy media consumption habits.

1. Observe

Get a sense of how your child is currently in taking media by observing them for a 24-hour period, or even in a typical week. What kinds of devices and content is your child spending the most time with? When are they using their screens the most? How do their consumption habits change on a weekday versus a weekend? How do their habits compare (and play off of) your own? Understanding how your entire household consumes media can help you set healthy limitations for everyone.

2. Discuss

Not all apps and games are mindless entertainment; the right ones can provide valuable learning experiences. Have a discussion with your child over the types of media they are consuming. Common Sense Education recommends using the 4Cs to maximize your kid’s screen time: 

  • Connection: Are your kids connecting on a personal level with what they are consuming? Are they deeply engaged or even enlightened?
  • Critical Thinking: Do these games encourage your children to dive deeper into a topic, subject or skill?
  • Creativity: Are they able to create new content? Does it allow for kids to take ownership over their own learning?
  • Context: Have discussions with your children over what they are consuming, and help them apply it to the real-world.

Parent and author Kelly Holmes came up with a creative way to start this conversation with her 6 year-old. She started by sorting all of her daughter’s iPad apps into “brain food” and “junk food,” explaining to her child that too much time spent consuming “junk food” will be harmful in the longer run. This helped enable her child to make smarter choices about their own screen time.

3. Replace, don’t remove

Stopping a habit cold turkey is always difficult, so if you know your child needs to cut back on screen time, avoid simply taking away their devices. Instead, replace screen time with other fun activities, like outdoor play, a sport, or reading. Teach your child how to take regular breaks from their devices in order to help them get used to disconnecting.

If you’re still wondering what’s a good time limit to set, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for infants 18 months and younger, one hour per day for children ages 2-5, and limited usage for children 6 years and older.

It’s also worth noting that nearly all health specialists recommend removing TV sets and screens from bedrooms—including your own. Screen usage at night can interfere with children’s sleep, which is crucial for their development. Not to mention, TVs (or computers, tablets, or mobile phones) in the bedroom can provide an unmonitored space for your child to splurge or indulge in unregulated media consumption. Ask your children to charge their devices outside of their bedrooms at night as well as another way to cut down on before-bed access.

4. Be your child’s media mentor

Children always look to their parents for modeling appropriate behavior, so it’s important that you’re demonstrating healthy digital media habits yourself. That means being conscious of setting down cellphones, turning off TVs, and shutting laptops regularly throughout the day and especially before bed. The APA recommends having “media-free” times with your child, such as during dinner, in the car, or even in certain spaces within your home, such as the bedroom. Initiate healthy discussions with your children about what they are consuming and watching, and take advantage of sites like Common Sense Media help you determine if those things are appropriate. Keep these quick tips in mind as you work to be the best media mentor you can be for your young child:

  • Use parental controls to filter internet content, or set time limits with tools like Web Curfew
  • Preview apps, games, movies before allowing your child to consume them
  • Make sure your child is within your view as they are utilizing their devices
  • Talk about what appropriate online behavior looks like, as well as the consequences of sexting, cyberbullying, and sharing personal information

Building healthy digital media habits is an ongoing challenge for all of us. Be patient and flexible with the process, and consistently revisit the rules and limits you set as your child matures. With communication and guidance, screen time can certainly be a good thing.

Looking for more tips to navigate the murky waters of screen time and media consumption with your child? Check out this blog for 4 Tips for Parents to Teach Kids About Responsible Technology Use!