- Written by Lynn U. Nichols Lynn U. Nichols
How much is just enough for your kids With screens coming in so many shapes and sizes these days—from phones, tablets and toys to computers, games and TV—it can get hard to keep track of how much screen time your kids are getting each day. How much is too much, and when does it flip from beneficial to detrimental? If we are honest with ourselves as parents, screen time can become compulsive even for us—imagine what it’s like for kids who have grown up around screens all their lives? As with many things, it’s a balancing act. Here are some tips to find the right balance.
Be a media mentor
You are your kids’ greatest teacher. They watch how you do things, how you react to life, how you engage with others, and they mimic you. With that said, be conscious of the media habits you are passing on and use your cell phone or computer as a tool and not a crutch. When you are with your kids, make eye contact with them, rather than with your cell phone. Show them that you can go hours without staring into a screen. Model using screens rather than screens using you—in other words, be purposeful with your screen time. Connect on Skype with the cousins, talk with grandparents on the phone, and use the internet to find fun facts or play a game to learn something, not simply to be entertained.
Some people argue that screens get a bad rap, and that all screen time is not equal. For example, TVs are not interactive, like gaming can be. Internet sites vary wildly, where kids can read and learn, or watch silly memes or age-inappropriate content. University of Massachusetts studies have shown that kids who watch educational shows when young have better concentration, better grades and more interest in reading as teenagers. For these folks, the question isn’t so much how to limit, but how to promote responsible screen use.
Fire the digital babysitter
In general, avoid the temptation to use screens as babysitters for young kids. This is especially true for babies and toddlers younger than 2, as a baby’s developing brain can get overstimulated by screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero screen time for kids younger than 18 months and then just an hour for kids ages 2 to 5. For kids 6 and older, they leave it to the discretion of parents. There are studies that show reliance on media can delay cognitive development in kids.
Of course there will be crucial times you may need to use media for distraction, like an important phone call, but when you can, rely on toys and books instead.
Be a media interpreter
Now more than ever, our kids soak in messages about gender, sex, social interaction, risky behaviors, and what they should look like from media sources. From a young age, interpret the message for your kids. Question commercials that portray men as cavemen or women as sex symbols. Teach lessons about healthy food choices when you see advertised fried foods or sugary cereals. If you break down media messages for what they are, they will hold less power and give you a chance to teach valuable lessons.
Create screen-free zones and times
As you likely know, it’s easy to get a little compulsive at checking your phone. A recent study shows adults spend 90 minutes a day on their cell phone on average. Since most kids get their first smartphone between ages 8 and 13, having that hand-held access to the internet, social media, and connection with friends can become obsessive. That’s why it’s wise to establish screen-free zones within your house, like bedrooms; and screen-free times, like dinnertime, bed time and driving in the car. If you all live by these rules as a family, your kids will learn that screens are not a constant, and should never ever take the place of good old quality face-to-face time. Set thoughtful limits and promote conscientious use to find the right balance of screen time for your family.