If you’re a parent who hasn’t lost their mind over their kids’ screen time, then this might not be the article for you.
If, however, you’re wondering if the TV/Notepad/Computer/Phone has become an addiction, you’re not alone. There are some truly shocking statistics around technology usage in children, teens, and young adults.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
One thing to know about me, if you don’t already, is I deeply love a good study. Especially if it comes with some interesting stats. Take, for example, the following stats reported in Common Sense Media’s report “Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy, and Finding Balance.”
- A study of 263 middle school, high school, and college-aged kids showed that students were only able to study for 6 minutes at a time before switching to a “technological distraction.”
- A study of teenagers reported that 50%+ used electronic media (TV, texting, etc) during studying and didn’t believe it affected their work quality or productivity.
- In a study of 8-18 year-olds, media usage ranged from 6 to 9 hours a day. Even on the low end, that’s an amazing 42 hours a week….more than a full-time job!
If you’re interested in more fascinating numbers on technology addiction, check out this infographic from Common Sense Media. It shows, among other things, that 50% of teens admit to feeling addicted to their phones.
I think it’s safe to say that screen time should be limited. However, there are some studies out there indicating that media, when used appropriately, isn’t 100% a bad thing.
The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, which is supported through the National Institute of Health, is a huge 10-year study that is in its early stages. However, they have already found that “youngsters who spent more time texting or video chatting with friends than playing video games or scrolling the internet were more engaged with family and community. They were also more involved in sports and other physical activities and had less family conflict.”
The term ‘screen time’ is usually used as a negative. However, it’s hard to ignore that there are some real benefits to kids using electronic media. The use of the internet for school-aged children in research projects is tremendous. Multi-tasking abilities have been improved in people who have been raised with electronics. There are a load of apps and programs designed specifically to help children grown and learn while having fun!
Is Screen Time a Problem In Your Home?
All these benefits listed above, though, come with the caveat that electronic usage and screen time be used within safe limits and limits that work for your family.
So the question is, how much screen time is healthy?
Well, if you believe the American Heart Association, the answer is no more than 2 hours for children older than 5. Or 1 hour a day for children from 2 to 5 years old. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes no screen time is appropriate for children under 18 months. Screen time should be used together and in limited amounts from 18 months to 2 years. For children older than 2, it should be 1 hour a day. The WHO asserts the right limits are no screen time for kids under one and 1 hour for 2 to 4-year-old children.
What is infinitely more manageable than trying to count every minute of media, however, is Common Sense Media‘s belief that, ” What’s more important is the quality of kids’ media, how it fits into your family’s lifestyle, and how you engage your kids with it.”
Our family definitely falls into this category. We’ve established limits and rules that fit our lifestyle and wishes for our kids. And that is absolutely my recommendation to you.
Below you’ll find a few crucial tips for limiting and monitoring screen time so you can ensure your children’s relationship with it remains healthy. And you can also ensure you don’t have to throw the notepad in the trash the next time you tell your kid to brush their teeth and they let you know they’ll do it when their game is done.
Signs that Your Kids Are Struggling With Screen Time
Let’s ignore the recommended time limits for a second. If you’re seeing any of the following behavior, it is time to have a conversation about technology:
- Your kids are struggling to entertain themselves without electronic media
- Homework is not happening, or happening poorly, because of electronic distractions
- Electronic devices are the first thing they think about in the morning and the last at night
- Your kids feel/act moody, restless, irritable when they do not have access to electronics
- The real world is being ignored in favor of engaging in the electronic media world
- Your kids cannot complete simple or short tasks without checking their electronics
- Your kids have lied to excuse their use of electronic media
- Friends, family, and activities they enjoy are being neglected for screen time
- Physically, they are experiencing more headaches or neck pain
Although this is not a definitive list, it should give ideas for deciding acceptable use of electronics for your family.
Establishing a Screen Time Policy
Policy sounds so official here, but let’s look at the word more loosely. What I actually mean by policy is a set of rules or guidelines that establish who, what, when, where, and how your family uses electronics. It is important that they:
- Fit your family dynamics
- Are age-appropriate
- Be communicated so everyone understands them
- Be easy to follow (so you can follow through with enforcing them)
Keep those things in mind as you look at the following factors.
Hours of Use
What hours do you want your kids to be on their devices or in front of the TV?
These hours may be different depending on what type of device you’re talking about. For our family, we do not allow notepads/ipads/phones/etc after 9 a.m. and until the lights come on outside. These lights are attached to a solar panel, so essentially they are on at dark.
I’ve seen other parents, though, who prefer to have their evenings device free. They opt for a schedule that allows them in the mornings but not at night. Another option is to allow them only on certain days. In other words, there are tons of options. It’s just a matter of trying out what works for your family.
Ask yourself these questions to help determine the times electronics are allowed:
- Are electronics okay in the mornings after they’ve gotten ready for school?
- Will the times/days allowed change during the summer?
- If they can’t have a notepad/iPod/phone, can they still watch TV?
- Are there tasks that need to be completed before they have electronics? (chores, homework, etc)
- Can the times change if you’re traveling?
- Are there times when exceptions can be be made? (It’s freezing outside, for example)
Once you have a good idea of what times and days will fit your family, move on to the next set of considerations.
Parental controls are a great option if you have younger kids who may happen across content they are not aware is bad for them. Alternately, maybe you have a teenager you want to keep a closer eye on. Or you want to make sure certain apps aren’t used. And maybe you want to incorporate a total amount a screen time a device can be used on any given day.
No matter what, considering parental controls is an important part of any policy you create. They allow you to monitor a variety of actions, prohibit certain actions completely, and give you comfort that your kids’ devices are not being used to harm them.
Additionally, there are apps available for download these days that should never be used by kids, and some of these parental controls allow those apps to be blocked from the device.
If you’re looking for a place to start researching which app to use, I’d start here. It’s an excellent comparison of parental control apps that you may be interested in. Towards the bottom of the article, you’ll find a great chart to use.
Ok, you’ve decided on screen time and parental controls, now what?
This one is pretty easy. There should be no circumstance in which your child has a password that you do not have access to. This is for everyone’s safety.
You might even hear the good ol’ standby, “You’re spying on me.”
Well, truthfully, you kind of are. But make sure they know good-and-well that you’re looking at their content because spying implies secrecy. No use beating around the bush on this one. You’re going to have access to their info and they should know it.
Important, also, is using these passwords on occasion to actually check-in. If that makes you uncomfortable, look at it this way: it’s not them you don’t trust…it’s the internet preditors.
Outside Your Home
This one is much harder to monitor, but important to consider.
Are you going to allow your kids to use electronics outside your home?
If you, you may want to consider the following questions:
- Are they allowed to use the devices of people you don’t know?
- If they are allowed, should they ask first?
- Will you talk to the friend’s parent about parental controls being used?
- Are there apps or actions you do not ever want them to use? Do they know what they are?
- Are you going to enforce your screen time on electronic media used outside your home?
Let me give you a practical example of this. As previously explained, my step-kids are not allowed to use their devices from 9 am until dark. However, they have friends who use them during the day but not at night. When they are playing with these friends, we let their parents monitor device usage. This is because we know and trust the parents to monitor their safety.
It might feel like you’re going overboard on this planning phase. But by considering all these circumstances, you’re setting yourself up for less annoyance and more success.
Grades and Other Requirements
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Are there any circumstances where they have not earned the right to use their device?
We have a few in our house. If their grades are lower than a B, their chores are not done, or they are dishonest/disrespectful about their devices. Because kids are creative in the ways they get in trouble, this list is in no way exhaustive. But it is our base requirement. There are certainly times that we will ‘ground’ them from their notepad outside of these 3 items.
If there are things that are important to your family, be sure to include them in your policy.
How To Start
By now you should have a pretty good grasp of what you are going to allow and what you aren’t with electronics.
You’re either excited and raring to go, or dreading talking to your kid(s) about it. Either way, here are some suggestions for ripping off the bandaid and getting going:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure everyone involved is explicitly aware of what the new policy includes. This will make everyone’s life so much easier going forward!
- Be ready to make adjustments. More than likely, you haven’t thought of everything. Be prepared (and make sure everyone else is, also) to make adjustments to the policy.
- Stay strong! It might be bumpy at first. And you might get some push-back. But this is important for everyone and will definitely bring you some peace of mind. So remember your ‘why’ for doing this and keeping moving forward.
Comment below to let me know what’s worked for your kids and family!
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