Our Take on Screen Time Management
Based on our analysis of the toolkit below, parental screen time limits are essential. But there needs to be a balance between structuring children’s screen time and allowing them to engage in our technology driven world. There is no magic number for the amount of time a child should be limited. Rather, healthy screen time habits are made with the intention of allowing freedom to participate with media in ways which don’t hinder other aspects of life.
Overall, caretakers should try not to use restrictive screen time strategies on their children. Instead, they should collaborate with their children on making sensible limits and discussing healthy screen time practices. This collaborative effort allows children to be intentional about media habits, while also giving them an opportunity to attempt their own self-regulation. Children should feel in compliance with screen time expectations or else they may associate structure with unreasonable punishment. This can increase temptations and encourage children to hide their activity.
Children and caretakers can coordinate technology-free times, designated to encourage family bonding or limit distractions for other priorities. Such a collaborative effort might also inspire more healthy communication between the caretaker and child. Additionally, open communication about media experience is essential especially when ensuring children are kept safe from harmful aspects such online bullying or sexual predators.
A last important note is healthy screen time practices should not be exclusive to children. Like any other lifestyle habit, habits are easier to develop and maintain when all members of the family are participating.
Screen Time Toolkit
The following is a compiled list of research we found and key points, which provide significant insight for caretakers regarding youth screen time management.
- Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life. The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know your children’s friends, both online and off. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, where they are going on the web, and what they are doing online.
- Set limits and encourage playtime. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. And—don’t forget to join your children in unplugged play whenever you’re able.
- Families who play together, learn together. Family participation is also great for media activities—it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your kids. It’s a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. And, you can introduce and share your own life experiences and perspectives—and guidance—as you play the game.
- Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners online. And, because children are great mimics, limit your own media use. In fact, you’ll be more available for and connected with your children if you’re interacting, hugging and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen.
- Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth “talk time” is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat, with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it’s that “back-and-forth conversation” that improves language skills—much more so than “passive” listening or one-way interaction with a screen.
- Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes and other family and social gatherings tech-free. Recharge devices overnight—outside your child’s bedroom to help children avoid the temptation to use them when they should be sleeping. These changes encourage more family time, healthier eating habits, and better sleep, all critical for children’s wellness.
- Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.
- Apps for kids – do your homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as “interactive” should require more than “pushing and swiping.” Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.
- It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Many teens need to be reminded that a platform’s privacy settings do not make things actually “private” and that images, thoughts, and behaviors teens share online will instantly become a part of their digital footprint indefinitely. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.
- Remember: Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. Parents should take a closer look at your child’s behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including from your pediatrician.
- Open and collaborative discussion between youth and parents regarding barriers may point to mutually agreed facilitators to reduce screen time, such as setting screen-time limits or removal of electronic media from youth’s bedrooms.
- It was apparent in this study that parent- and youth-guided self-reflection and self-regulating strategies of monitoring screen time could be beneficial, particularly among older adolescents, as this developmental stage is associated with increased decision-making autonomy.
- Parents should avoid reinforcement of excessive screen time by limiting co-viewing with youth, relying on screen time as a babysitter, or restricting their own time spent engaged with electronic media.
- Because screen time, and TV time in particular, is perceived to be an important shared family activity, a balanced and collaborative approach to moderation of screen time may be warranted to mitigate family conflict, as contrasted with the discontinuation of screen-based media altogether.
- More than half of low-income children attending Head Start had a TV in their bedroom.
- Having a TV in the bedroom is more common in families of lower socioeconomic status.
- Results are consistent with studies that find having a TV in the bedroom is associated with higher screen time.
- Restrictive parental media monitoring is related to increased adolescent media use and researchers have argued that such restrictive rules make limited media a “forbidden fruit” that encourages more adolescent media use and increased media hiding from parents.
- Parents who can balance the need for regulations regarding the media with the need to respect, support, and encourage the autonomy of their adolescents create a family environment and parent–child relationship that fosters clear and open communication, and support for and compliance with family rules, including media use.
- It is also of note that both controlling approaches to media monitoring were directly associated with higher levels of internalizing problems, whereas autonomy-supportive approaches were associated with lower levels of internalizing problems.
- Only autonomy-supportive restrictive media monitoring was associated with lower levels of media use, suggesting that teens of all ages can benefit from media rules and limits if they are delivered with the intent to maximize autonomy.
- Current data suggests that screen time has limited impact on children’s well-being.
- Counseling moderation in screen use is likely to result in the healthiest outcomes, while understanding that this should focus on peer normative screen use, rather than arbitrarily low cut-offs.
- Understanding the context of screen use and how it is embedded in the social fabric of modern life may be crucial in re-envisioning the role of screen use in young lives.
- Fundamentally, to the degree society is concerned about the well-being of youth, focusing on screen technology may be more distraction than panacea. This should be communicated more clearly, so that societal efforts can be refocused on issues that have more dramatic impact on young lives.
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
- For school-aged children and adolescents, the idea is to balance media use with other healthy behaviors.
- For general statistics on screen-time usage, this resource links to an infographic to demonstrate the census of media habits and preferences among American youth ages eight to 18 years old.
- Common Sense also provides a handy family media agreement (contract) to help manage and limit screen time.
We hope this toolkit helps guide you as your set screen time standards within your home for you and your family!
About The Author
As the Marketing Intern, Marihah Aziz assists in creating and sharing meaningful content on behalf of the Arms Wide Adoption Services family. She is currently studying psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown, where she fuels her aspiration in working within the field of clinical psychology. Get to know Marihah more here.