Is your child spending too much time on the Internet, watching TV or playing games? We help you get to grips with the problem, whether they’re using Windows PCs or Macs; iPhones, iPads, or Android devices; and even Xboxes and other game consoles.
Technology has changed the way we interact with family and friends, but it can also have a detrimental effect on our children’s ability to live happy and fulfilling lives. We’ve teamed up with experts in youth mental health to take a look at some of the issues surrounding children and screen time.
Screen time. It’s a fact of life. But it can also be a major headache for parents. As kids grow older, they spend more time in front of screens every day. And, if left unchecked, this sedentary behavior comes with serious health consequences for growing children.
At the most-extreme end of the spectrum, some studies have linked more than two hours of screen time daily with significantly increased risks of depression and other mental health problems.
In general terms, though, excessive screen time is strongly associated with obesity and video-game addiction. And all that screen time can really cut into your child’s physical activity levels—especially when you realize how much work their little hands and legs need to do to control an Xbox controller for five straight hours! How much screen time should my child get?
It seems everyone has a different idea on how to manage kids’ screen time these days. But, in reality, there are only a few things you need to worry about. And, since we’re a friendly type of company that likes to help our readers, we put together this list containing all you need to know about managing kids’ screen time, so that you can easily handle the situation.
- Your goal should be balance, not just saying no.
- Set limit on your children’s screen time, and communicate the limits clearly.
- Make the living space a place for the family to mingle and share their stories of the day rather than a space for isolating in front of screens.
- Create a contract for your kids to sign, detailing how much screen time they get and when.
- Electronics-free zones help keep screen time from overwhelming other parts of your child’s life.
- Use apps that let you restrict and track your kid’s screen time.
- Talk to your kids about their devices and what they can do with them.
- Your goal is not to completely remove screens from your kid’s life, but to help createa more balanced way of living with them
Whether you’re an avid follower of the latest tech trends or simply a parent who knows too well the challenges of trying to keep a child off a screen, you’ve probably heard a lot about screen time in recent months. We know that social media is addictive and that spending too much time on our devices can negatively impact our sleep habits and mental health.
While it’s important to limit screen time, it’s also important to remember that there are many benefits to technology as well. Research shows that adults who work at a computer for long hours are more productive than adults who don’t use computers at all. Video games can help kids with anxiety and depression improve their moods and symptoms.
Kids who spend time online have access to an amazing amount of information and learning opportunities. And tools like Skype allow us to stay connected with friends and family members around the world.
With that in mind, here are some tips for helping your kids find balance when using technology:
Setting Rules for Screen Time
The first step is to set some ground rules that apply to the whole family when it comes to using screens. For instance, you may decide no one uses screens during meals or after bedtime. Setting boundaries up front is a good way to make sure everyone in the household understands where you stand and what’s expected of them.
Create “Technology-Free Zones”
It can be scary to think about all of the ways our kids are exposed to technology these days. No matter how much they beg or plead—and they will—it’s important that we set boundaries and create “technology-free zones” in our home. This is a place where they know they aren’t allowed to play on the phone, watch videos, or use their tablets.
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Just as you wouldn’t let a three-year-old wander the streets alone, don’t rely on your kids to make good judgments about media choices. Establish “technology-free zones” in your home, such as called the family room, dining room or kitchen and keep technology out of those areas.
Educate Yourself on Electronics
A lot of parents have very little knowledge about electronics, even though these same parents have access to the same devices. Kids know more about video games, apps, and more than their parents do. Parents are often at a disadvantage when trying to help their kids understand media because the parents themselves don’t understand it.
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Educate yourself on electronics. You need to understand the world your children are living in, so you can provide them with a safe and helpful environment.
By knowing everything there is to know about their devices, you will have the power to control their screen time because you can make informed decisions and judicious choices on what’s best for them.
Make a Schedule
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that screen time should be limited to no more than one hour per day for children 2 years of age and older. Sit down with your children and explain your reasons for setting limits. You may have concerns about the effect on schoolwork, developmental delays, or their physical activity levels.
Establish some consistent rules and times when kids can use electronics. For example, you might allow them 30 minutes of screen time after completing all homework assignments or after doing chores. Alternatively, you could set aside certain hours of the day for screen time. For example, if you don’t want them using devices during dinner, then set aside an hour before or after dinner for screen time. You might also want to consider turning off the TV during meals if that’s also a concern.
Know How Much Your Child Is Using
You can’t set limits if you don’t know how much your child is using. Work with your child to keep track of their screen time for an entire week (including weekends). Make sure you include every type of screen use, including TV, gaming systems, video games, apps, social media, texting, and web surfing. Try keeping a log or have your child write down the amount of time they spend on each activity in a notebook.
Set Limits Based on Age
The AAP recommends different limits on screen time based on age:
Under 18 months: avoid all use except video chatting with family and friends.
18 months to 24 months: watch quality programming together with your child while discussing what they see.
Set a Good Example
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and caregivers be good role models by limiting their own screen use. This means not using electronics during mealtime and limiting your own media usage when you are in the same room as your child.
Set Clear Rules and Expectations
You may want to write down your rules and expectations regarding screen time, including specific times when screens are allowed (or not allowed). You might also want to create an agreement with your child that outlines the rules and consequences if they are violated.
If your child does have trouble looking away from screens (and you can relate), consider providing other things that keep him or her engaged. Books and boardgames are great alternatives to electronic devices and video games.
It’s not just the amount of time that kids spend with media, but how they use it. Research shows that children who multitask with media often don’t pay enough attention to what they are doing. They may get less out of their homework, schoolwork, and other activities than they would otherwise.
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It’s also important to note that some media content is more educational than others—not all screen time is created equal. Some programs have specific goals and benefits, like teaching math skills or showing proper safety behavior in a fun way. Other media content is simply for entertainment or to pass the time. Try to ensure that your child’s screen time has a purpose beyond amusement.
Another concern is that kids may become so involved with digital media that they neglect other important aspects of their lives, including face-to-face interactions with family and friends and participation in hobbies, sports, and other interests. It can be easy for them to get caught up in their device usage and lose track of time. With this in mind, set clear limits on when and where kids can use their electronics and how long they can spend with them at any given time.
Set Limits and Stick to Them
One way to make it easier is to set clear rules about when your child can use devices and when they need to be put away. You might decide that screens are not allowed during mealtimes or that kids need to complete homework before they can use any device.
First up, decide how much screen time is right for your child. Experts recommend no more than two hours of daily screen time for children and teens. This includes all forms of electronic entertainment, from social media and video games to TV and smartphones. If you come up with a daily limit, it helps you set expectations with your child and gives them a clear understanding of how much they’re allowed to use in a day.
Make Screen Time a Privilege
Screen time shouldn’t be an all-day affair. Decide on a set amount of time your child can use electronics each day and stick with it.
Instead of letting kids use screens whenever they want, consider making it a privilege that can be earned. For example, kids could earn screen time for doing well in school or for finishing their chores around the house.
Try to limit it as much as possible.
Limit the amount of time your kids spend on screens by setting limits on the amount of time they can use them. For example, you might want to limit screen time to one hour a day for each child or no more than two hours per day for your whole family. Another option is to limit screen time to weekends only, or only allow screen time after all homework is completed each day.
Set rules regarding how and when screens can be used, and make sure your children know what they are. For example, you might not want your kids watching TV while other family members are eating or you might want everyone’s phones turned off during dinner. It’s important that everyone in your family is clear about your rules regarding screen time.
Be Involved with Their Devices
It’s important that you know what type of content your kids are consuming and the websites they visit so that you can monitor their activities. Spend time with your kids doing the things they like to do on the internet. This will help you find out if there is any online bullying or inappropriate content that you should know about.4 You can also ask for their passwords to their accounts to make sure that they are not exposing themselves to potential danger.
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Use parental controls.
Most devices and networks offer parental controls like time limits, content restrictions and online activity reports — often for free. Consider using them to help balance your children’s exposure to digital media with other activities that are important for their development. To learn more about setting up parental controls on various devices, check out this guide.
Once you know what content should be blocked, parental controls let you block sites that may appear in search results. For example, if your child has a history of searching for “nightmare before Christmas the monolith,” you can take the steps to remove it from search results. This is often available on Google, Firefox, and other browsers. Make sure to check your specific browser for instructions on how to set up parental controls.
When setting screen-time rules for children (or anyone else), consistency is key. Children should know how many hours they’re allowed to spend on screens each day or week and what activities they’re allowed to do with that time. For example, children may be allowed one hour of video games per day if they’ve completed all their homework and chores first. It’s also important that parents don’t make exceptions to the rule, especially not as a reward for good behavior or an easy way to get children to do something else.