Managing Screen Time

Our children are constantly around screens. At school, they play math games on tablets and interact with a smart board. At restaurants there are several TV screens all playing different shows and games. In a world that is becoming more and more dependent on technology, how do we teach our kids healthy boundaries with screens?

When deciding on screen time guidelines for children parents might ask:

What are the guidelines for screen time at different ages?

How much screen time is too much screen time?

What are the pros and cons of technology?

How can I help keep my kids safe on the internet?

In answering these questions, it is helpful to remember two basic principals: Not all media is created equal and to find what works best for your family because there are no magic answers.

General Guidelines for Screen Time & Youth of All Ages:

Preview their media
Media that appears kid friendly may have violence or developmentally inappropriate material so it is always best to preview media they are consuming. This allows you to decide your comfort level based on your family values.

There is no magic amount of screen time. What is important is that screen time does not interfere with your child’s development. It should not interfere with their sleep, grades, engagement in extracurricular activities, and social relationships. Monitor how your child behaves before and after screen time. This may help you notice any adverse affects certain media have on your child such as an increase in aggression or defiance. Follow the minimum age guidelines for different social media websites before allowing them to use it.

Engage in media with them
This allows screen time to be a conversation starter. This can also be an opportunity to challenge stereotypes displayed in media and reinforce values important to your family. Some great questions to ask your child while playing a video game or watching a program may be: “What would you do if you were them?” “What character seems most like you and why?” Setting a family movie night is one great example of ways to engage in media with your child.

Model appropriate screen usage
From young toddlers to teenagers, young people learn appropriate screen time usage from those closest to them. Make mealtimes a technology free time. This give them an opportunity to connect with you and promotes mindful eating habits. Monitor how often you are on your smartphone or computer while with your family.

While there is no magic amount of screen time, professionals do have suggestions regarding media usage and different developmental stages.

0-4 years Old:

  • Avoid screen time (other than live chats) with children younger than 18 months old
  • For 2-5 year olds, the suggested maximum amount is 1 hour of high quality programming with a parent present.
  • At this age, high quality programming is slow paced and engages them in many ways (touch, sound, movement). Limiting exposure to media is important for health development. During this time children are developing their gross motor development abilities such as walking & running rather than their fine motor abilities (such as writing or swiping on a screen), free play is important to their development of creativing and social skills, and children at this age learn the most through human interaction

5-11 years Old:

  • Have technology free zones such as the dinner table or their bedroom.
  • Avoid using technology as a reward. When we use technology as a reward, we make an already highly rewarding activity for kids more desirable. It is important that kids have balance in their lives and view other activities equally as rewarding as screen time.
  • Be prepared for them to find inappropriate materials. Kids can easily purposefully or accidentally stumble onto pornographic or other inappropriate materials online. Be prepared to have frank and developmentally appropriate discussions regarding these topics.

Teens (12 years old & beyond):

  • Encourage privacy: Teach your teens that if they wouldn’t want you or their grandparents to read what they post online, don’t post it. Make sure they understand privacy settings and knowing if their posts are private or public. Make it clear that what they post online can have future consequences. For example, what if what they post online now is viewed by future employers?
  • Friend, don’t spy on your teen. Friend them on social media to monitor their online activity but do not read their texts or messages without good reason.
  • Discuss sexting and its consequences. Discuss with your teen that they must trust the person they are dating with a naked picture but do they trust that person’s friend and so on? Also, there can be serious legal consequences for sexting both for the sender and those who receive it.

Keeping up with all of the recent changes in media and technology can be difficult. Maintaining clear expectations based on your family’s values and your child’s development can be one way to navigate these ever changing challenges.

Managing Screen Time
Kelly Jean Tucker, MA, LPCA

References: American Academy of PediatricsChild Mind Institute Common Sense Media

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