It’s no secret that kids of all ages love electronic devices – video games, tablets, computers, smartphones, etc. And we do, too! But all of the technology that surrounds us can become addictive. So, how do you help your child manage screen time and develop good healthy habits?
The Stats on Screen Time
Each day on average, children ages 8-10 spend 6 hours on their screens, children ages 11-14 spend 9 hours, and teens ages 15-18 spend 7.5 hours. This doesn’t even include the hours that kids were online this past year for remote learning. Needless to say, these numbers are a giant red flag to parents. The nonprofit group, Common Sense Media, reports that many adults and children say they are addicted to their screens.
The Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time
Digital media can be educational, of course, but too much screen time has been linked to obesity, behavioral and emotional issues, poor self-image, and sleep problems. Online activity also can lead to substance use and risk-taking behaviors. By spending too much time on their screens, children are also missing out on the chance to play, use their imagination, develop social skills, and exercise.
General Screen Time Guidelines by Age
For parents looking for guidelines on how much screen time their child should have, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following limits for younger children.
- Under 2 years old: limited screen time with an adult present such as video chats; older toddlers (18-24 months) may use educational media with an adult who can teach and play with the child
- Ages 2-5: no more than 1 hour a day
In addition, experts have weighed in on-screen use for elementary school-age children and teens.
- Ages 6-17: no more than 2 hours a day (homework time is additional)
7 Steps to Managing Screen Time
Follow these 7 steps to manage your child’s screen time, teach good habits and restore balance to your child’s life.
1. Set a schedule together.
Designate certain times when devices are allowed and when they are not. For example, you may permit an hour after homework is completed but not close to bedtime. Get kids involved in setting reasonable limits. Draft a family contract with clear rules and consequences for breaking them. Then, follow the rules and reinforce them with timers or tokens that kids can turn in, in exchange for screen time.
2. Follow the same approach for virtual and real play dates.
You wouldn’t drop your child at a playdate without knowing your child’s friend and what they will be doing. Follow those same guidelines for virtual time. Preview the programs, games, and apps that your child is using. Know your child’s friends and how they are interacting online. Talk about situations that may occur if your child is exposed to content that you haven’t approved. Discuss the behavior that you expect.
3. Set tech-free zones.
Designate the bedroom and the dinner table as two tech-free zones. The dinner table is a place where face-to-face conversation takes place. The bedroom is where sleep happens. Both of those areas will benefit from not having the distraction of digital media. Importantly, don’t use screens to distract or soothe your child. Those times are best for face-to-face, personal interaction.
4. Use parental controls.
Did you know there is actually technology that helps you to control screen time? You can set screen limits for your child’s Chromebook or Android device with Google Family Link. Other popular apps and software include:
To help limit shows to just one episode, you can turn off auto-play on Netflix so the next show won’t automatically start.
5. Encourage tech-free activities.
Help steer your children to non-tech activities based on their interests. Instead of watching a favorite movie, have them play dress-up and act it out or draw a picture of their favorite characters. Encourage your child to stay active, play outside with friends or go bike riding. Join in, and enjoy some family fun.
6. Reward your child for following the rules.
Is your child being responsible for managing his/her screen time? Consider a reward: giving extra in your child’s allowance, cooking a favorite meal, or letting your child stay up late. However, don’t use extra screen time as a reward. That will only defeat the purpose of managing time on digital devices, and elevate it to a more desired privilege.
7. Set a good example.
If you’re on your phone or tablet all day, it’s likely your children will want to be too. If you want them to put their devices down, that means you have to set the example. Talk to your kids about finding a balance between screen time and other activities. Show them how you manage your time, and lead the way.
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