The amount of time our kids spend on screens might be one of the biggest sources of guilt for us as parents. We know we shouldn’t allow our kids to be glued to a device for hours on end, but some days, it’s hard to enforce limits.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that kids in the US ages 8-12 spend about 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens; teens spend up to 9 hours. And now, when many of us are working from home and our activities are limited, it might feel like your child is spending more hours on screens than ever.
Screens aren’t “bad.” Screen time can be used to teach, entertain, and yes, even keep kids occupied for a bit while mom or dad is trying to meet that work-from-home deadline. But it’s important to be aware of what our kids are watching and some of the harmful effects of screen time, such as exposure to violence, cyberbullying and predators, misleading information, negative stereotypes, and inappropriate sexual content.
To help your child develop healthy screen habits, start with a talk. Sit down with your child and ask her how she feels about the amount of time she’s spending on devices. (Don't be surprised if she tells you she feels fine about it!) Next, discuss some of the ways screens are good — for instance, tell a young child that the app he uses to play memory games is helping to exercise his mind. In a conversation with an older child, discuss how her school used screens to keep lessons going so she could finish out the academic year.
Then, using age-appropriate words and examples, share some of the dangers of screen time with your child. You could simply explain to a younger child that she might see images of things that will make her feel bad, and you want to protect her from that; for an older child, you could explain what cyberbullying is and how constantly viewing images of “perfect” celebrities can result in low self-worth.
Tell your child you want to work together to set up some rules and guidelines around screens. (Studies have shown that when a child feels ownership in creating rules and guidelines, she’s more likely to stick with them.) Start by going over what apps your child is using and what sites she’s visiting. Then come up with limits on the amount of time spent on screens and what apps and sites your child can and cannot use on devices. It’s helpful to write down the rules and then display them in a place where everyone can see them. You might also want to use an app like Google Family Link, which will allow you to set screen time limits and see what your child is viewing online.
Finally, ask your child to help create a list of activities she can enjoy when she’s not on screens. This could include reading, crafting, playing with siblings, taking a rest time or nap, or playing outside. If you’ve been using screen time as a way to keep your child busy while you work, try substituting some of that time for crafts or reading. Just be sure to explain to her that there will be times you won’t be able to help her while you’re working, so choose something she can work on independently.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always stick to the new rules, particularly during these times when everything is in chaos. The important thing is to be as consistent as possible overall, and if you have a day or two when everyone is on screens more than usual, just start fresh the next day.
For ideas from other parents on how they handle screen time, read this helpful HuffPost article!