More and more households today possess at least one smartphone, not to mention tablets and other digital devices. As a result, children are spending an increasing amount of time in front of screens from a very young age. This situation has many parents, as well as child development experts, concerned about what the long-term effects of all these screens might be.
However, this is not to say that screen time for kids is all bad. Screens and other digital media are simply a fact of life, now, and these devices can offer many valuable opportunities. This means that the solution is not simply to separate kids and screens altogether. Rather, parents need to determine how to encourage responsible digital consumption and teach children to be aware of their own digital habits.
For parents and caregivers struggling with the question of how to manage children’s screen time, these simple, realistic tips can help.
The more interactive, the better.
We often talk about “screens” as if the content they display is all the same. But digital content is actually extremely varied. Experts today agree that the quality of the experience is a bigger issue than quantity of screen time.
For example, an hour spent with more passive digital media, such as watching television, has a different effect on a child than an hour spent with more interactive forms of media, such as using Skype or FaceTime to chat with grandparents or other family members on a smartphone. When considering how much screen time is enough for your child, therefore, it’s important to take interactivity and quality into account.
Work toward consistency.
Like any other arena in which you establish rules for your child, rules around screen time are most effective – and easiest for your child to understand and follow – when they are reliably enforced. In developing screen time rules for your child, strive for consistency as much as possible. At the same time, understand that there are exceptions for every situation.
Enjoy screen time together.
One of the biggest concerns about screen time and digital media use is that it can cause children (and indeed, adults) to become more isolated. People may immerse themselves in the virtual world and ignore the physical world around them.
One way to combat this is by enjoying screen time together with your children. Designate one night of the week as “family movie night” and watch a film or a television show together. Play video games with your kids, or work on an online jigsaw puzzle with them on a mobile device.
No matter what type of screen time you engage in, ask questions and encourage children to talk about what they are seeing onscreen and how that makes them think and feel. This helps turn screens from a potential source of isolation into a valuable tool for connection.
Learn and use your control options.
You might feel powerless when it comes to managing or limiting your child’s screen time or use of digital media. In fact, you have many tools at your disposal to make this task easier.
Passwords or other screen locks can help prevent children from accessing a smartphone or other mobile device without your knowledge. Parental controls for video games and television viewing help give peace of mind that children are not accessing age-inappropriate content.
If children have their own devices, there are a number of apps available that allow you to use your own mobile phone to enforce rules. For example, you can set time limits on their screens or block them from downloading or installing particular apps.
Avoid screens before or in bed.
The question of when is a good time for screen time is just as important to consider as the quantity and quality of that screen time. Specifically, experts strongly advise against using screens or digital media before bedtime or in the bedroom. The blue-enriched light from screens can disrupt normally healthy sleep patterns. Additionally, children who have devices in their bedrooms at night are more likely to access age-inappropriate content and have their sleep disturbed by distractions like text messages.
Be aware of your own behavior.
When considering how to handle and manage your child’s screen time, one of the most important things to be aware of is the example you are setting with your own screen behavior. Children learn from what their parents do even more quickly than from what their parents say. As a result, it’s critical that you do your best to model the screen behavior that you want your children to follow.
To this end, experts often recommend that the entire family stick to the same rules or guidelines around screen time and digital media. This may include no phones during mealtimes, or no television right before bed. This not only helps everyone create healthy screen habits, but it also encourages and increases the real-time, face-to-face interactions that are more important than ever in this digital age.