The subject of how much screen time is good for kids has been around in some form or another for years, ever since televisions became common household items. Now, the subject is more hotly debated than ever, with not just televisions but computers, tablets, and smartphones screens monopolizing more and more of everybody’s time. You want your child to be familiar with the current technology – after all, it will probably play a significant role in their adult life – but on the other hand, you know your child also needs time for unstructured play and face-to-face communications. Here are some things you should know about screen time and your children.
When it comes to small children, the American Academy of Pediatrics has some specific recommendations, such as restricting screen time to an hour a day for children between the ages of two and five. However, the guidelines are less specific for older children. And if you’re the parent of a tween – those years between nine and twelve – the lack of specific guidelines can be frustrating. This is just the age when children begin to become more interested in screens as a social tool, and if you’re not careful, those screens may seem to take over their lives.
However, there are some good reasons for the less specific guidelines. Children at this age can put their devices to good use as educational tools, and screen time has become an important part of a child’s socialization with their peers. No child wants to be left out of their social group, and texting and social media are as critical to this age group now as passing notes and having long telephone conversations was a generation ago. The important thing for this age group is not so much the specific amount of time they spend on the screens – the important thing is to find a healthy balance.
Creating a Balance
You can’t expect your child to find a balance on their own. Some children may be able to do that, but most need a parent’s help. As you may have discovered for yourself, screen-based activities can be compelling and even addictive, and it’s hard for a child to tear themselves away on their own. You can help by setting clear boundaries for screen use.
Designate screen-free times and places in your house. You might restrict screen use in the bedrooms, for example, and ban phones and tablets from family dinners and movie nights. Arrange outings and get-togethers for your child and their friends, and insist they stay off the screens when they have company over. Encourage participation in sports, music, or other activities that can’t be done while looking at a screen. Don’t forget to practice what you preach – follow your own rules for using devices, and make sure that you put down the phone or get off the computer when you’re interacting with your child. They’ll follow your example.
Using Helpful Apps
Of course, a parent can’t be everywhere at once. But technology can help you enforce the boundaries on your children’s screen time with apps that do some of the work for you. You can set them to lock the device after a certain amount of time or at a certain time of day, for example. That way, even if you’re not there to see it, you’ll know that your child is following your guidelines for screen use and maintaining their healthy balance.
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