5 Foolproof Tips for Managing Your Kids’ Screen Time
When my 4 year old daughter Dylan wakes up in the morning, one of the first things she says is: “I want Daniel Tiger.”
Unfortunately this is not a request for a stuffed animal toy, but instead a demand that we give her my wife’s iPad so she can access her Daniel Tiger app. In an ideal world, we would want our daughter to play with her toys, read a book, or clean her room.
But Daniel Tiger does buy us precious minutes, and it’s also a educational app. Besides, we are all able to have our shower, get dressed, and have coffee without worrying that Dylan is climbing on the bookshelves, drawing on the carpeting, or worse.
Could something so beneficial for the rest of the family really be so harmful to our precious daughter?
These are the kind of questions that parents, researchers, and children’s advocacy groups are wanting to know in the age of iPads, FaceTime, and SnapChat.
As most of us have heard, digital media exposure for children is at an all-time high. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are now spending nearly 7 hours a day on passive screen time including television, video games, and YouTube.
The research on how digital consumption is affecting our kids is concerning.
Studies are still tabulating data on whether technology addiction fits the classic definition of an addiction disorder, but many people certainly feel addicted, according to a 2016 survey. Over half of teens report feeling addicted to their mobile devices, and 28 percent said their parents are addicted too, according to a nationally representative survey of 1,200 parents and children conducted by the non-profit media advocacy organization Common Sense Media.
Dr. Delaney Ruston of Stony Brook University Hospital reported that when a child is absorbed in an iPad, tablet or other screen type, “it releases a hormone in the brain, dopamine, that is so rewarding, kids want this more and more. And therefore when they are not on these highly stimulating screens, they actually can get really agitated.” There are also several studies that have demonstrated that too much screen time can affect the development of your child’s emotional and communication skills.
So what are we as parents and educators to do?
How can we take charge of our kids’ screen time and make it productive?
Here are 5 Foolproof Tips for Managing Your Kids’ Screen Time so that digital consumption becomes a healthy component in their lives:
1. Set Limits on Screen Time
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated guidelines recommend:
- For babies up to 18 months old: Video chatting only (such as with a parent who is traveling, or a relative who lives at a distance).
- Toddlers 18 to 24 months old: High-quality, educational programming that you and your toddler watch together.
- Preschoolers, 2 to 5 years old: No more than one hour a day of high-quality programming.
- Kids ages 6 and up: Time limits to be set by parents. Parents are encouraged to “place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.”
Here are some practical tips that you might consider for your family:
- Make screens off-limits for certain days or times of the day
- Make bedrooms screen-free
- Establish a no device rule during mealtimes
- Use screen time as a reward for completion of chores, finishing homework, or achieving good grades
One of my favorite subscriptions is Screentime Labs which can automate your children’s screen time on their tablets and smart phones. With a solution like this you can set bedtime and school time restrictions for specific apps, use your phone or tablet to pause your child’s device or give bonus time, and create fun check lists of things you would like children to do or learn and motivate them with rewards. The solution has reasonable monthly subscriptions for around $3.33 per month with a 14 day free trial.
2. Set times for educational screen time only
Not all screen time is created equal. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens has labeled for types of digital consumption:
- Passive consumption: Viewing television, reading, or listening to music
- Interactive consumption: Playing digital games and web browsing
- Communication: Video-chatting and using social media
- Content creation: Computer programming, creating digital art, or making music
Research from Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a nonprofit research institute affiliated with the Sesame Workshop, found that less than half the time kids between the ages of 2 and 10 spend in front of screens is spent interacting with “educational” material.
Encouraging your children to become content creators rather than a passive consumers of technology is one good way to make screen time productive. Computer coding, 3D modeling, or digital music production are some great ways to develop your child’s interests in positive ways. You can encourage them to take online courses on a variety of topics from computer programming courses to cooking to YouTube video production courses available from reputable companies.
3. Participate in screen time with your child
AAP guidelines for children under 6 recommend that you participate in screen time with your child, and communicate with your child during the activity.
In communicating with your child about what you are watching or consuming you can explain to them what they are viewing and how it relates to the world around them. Even as your child gets older, it can be fun and beneficial to do screen time activities together. For example, many of our kids coding academy parents take online coding courses together with their children, which can lead to skill development and also bonding moments with your child.
4. Monitor your children’s behavior before, during, and after screen time
It is critical that you pay attention to how your kids behave before, during, and after consuming digital media.
If they are engaged with age-appropriate, high-quality media, their behavior is good; and their screen time is balanced with healthy screen-free activities, there is likely no reason for you to be concerned. On the other hand, if you notice that your child becomes distanced, spaced-out, irritable, or another emotional state that isn’t normal, it might be a good idea for you to take action.
5. Talk to your kids about online citizenship and safety
The web provides many fine educational and entertainment opportunities for children, but there is a dark underbelly that should rightly keep all of us up at night.
90 percent of social media-using children have witnessed mean behavior on social media, and 35 percent say they’ve seen it regularly.
58 percent of kids don’t see a problem with posting photographs and personal information online. We all can imagine where unsupervised screen time can lead.
By starting an ongoing conversation with your kids now, studies show that you can influence your child’s behavior when it comes to the Internet. Parents who have a good sense of what their kids are actually doing online are better set up to protect their kids, and those same kids are more likely to notify their parents if they have been the victim of inappropriate behavior or approached by strangers.
Did you enjoy 5 Foolproof Tips for Managing Your Kids’ Screen Time? Have personal experience or other practical advice on how to make programming for kids effective? Please leave comments below!