Everyone seems to know intuitively that too much screen time is not healthy, but no one seems to be able to say how much is too much. Experts (including Dr. Rachel Kowert, PhD and author of A Parent’s Guide to Video Games) note that even the “no more than 2 hours/day” recommendation for young children from the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) is arbitrary. The AAP does not even articulate a time limit for school age children.
Technology is becoming more complex and integrated into our lives; thus it doesn’t make sense to suggest one time limit for all people and all kinds of media.
That said, the AAP has published guidelines for healthy media/technology use both for young children (5 and under) as well as guidelines for school age children and cites research for many of its recommendations. When my children resist our own family rules, I refer them to the AAP guidelines. Drawing from these and other reputable sources, I’ve summarized some pieces of advice that I’ve found particularly helpful below. I’ve also included some of the guidelines that we currently use in my family.
Tips for Living with Technology in a Healthy Way
- Focus on bringing healthy activities in to your child’s life more than putting limits on what should stay out. The Healthy Mind Platter from Dan Siegel and David Rock is a nice depiction of the various activities the mind needs to stay healthy. Once we’ve protected time for sleep, physical activity, focused work time and in-person connection, there just isn’t that much left over for screens and media.
- Keep the conversation flowing between you and your children. If possible, create media limits and guidelines when children are very young so they become social norms and part of your family culture. As children get older, talk about what you’re seeing, ask for their point of view, and make guidelines and agreements together. Honestly, if there’s one “silver bullet” for how to foster healthy screen use, this is it: invite your school-age children to both help create and monitor agreements. Click here for more examples of joint problem solving.
- Do have guidelines around screen and media use including times of the day, or zones of the house, or certain circumstances when media/screens are not allowed. Use this Family Media Plan recommended by the AAP to help you identify your own family boundaries.
- Follow through on screen time agreements with kindness and firmness together. For example, “I know it’s hard to only watch one episode of Stranger Things, and that’s our limit for the day. I trust you to find something else to do.” Click here for more kind and firm scripts.
- Remember that some issues are best NOT solved in the moment. If you have flipped your lid, drop your agenda for now, and come back to it when you are both calm.
- Model healthy use of technology and media yourself. Do you scroll through emails while “listening” to your kids? Do you stay up too late surfing the net? Do you text while driving? If so, your children are watching and learning.
- Turn screens off 1 hour before bedtime. Bluelight and interaction with devices can increase cortisol in the blood, inhibit production of melatonin, and increase anxiety.
The Smith Boyle Family’s Current (and Imperfect) Screen Time Agreements
Note: I do not purport to have this all figured out. Every family is different and has different values so our agreements may not be right for your family. Also, our agreements change all the time; we bring “screen time limits” up for problem solving at family meetings many times a year! My kids are 12 and 16 (19YO is now in college).
- No screens in the morning on school days (it’s just too distracting). Even Mom and Dad try to check email, etc. before the children enter the scene so we can be fully present with them in the mornings.
- No devices (including laptops) in bedrooms. We have a “charging station” in the kitchen; all cell phones, iPads, Nintendo DS and other small devices “sleep” there. Parents ensure devices are there before heading to bed.
- All computers, laptops, and televisions are in public areas (no bedrooms).
- No devices during mealtimes.
- Current Time Limits: 1 hour of gaming or YouTube or TV/day on school days AFTER homework, music, and responsibilities are done. No limits on Saturdays (but we try to fill with other activities). Sundays only after homework, music, and responsibilities are done, and not before 12 noon. (Last year, our limit was no screens on Mon – Thurs.)
- Parents try to monitor time limits but we are definitely sloppy. Since we have made agreements all together, when we check in about whether time is up, our children usually know when they’ve gone beyond and easily agree to quit as soon as the episode, round, or game is over. We rarely force quitting in the middle of something.
Six months from now, we will very likely have different limits. Technology changes, our children change, our needs change and thus screen time limits are a popular conversation topic at family meetings. Stay tuned…I’ll write more about our challenges with this very hot topic in the months to come. In the meantime, please share your challenges or what has worked for you in the comment section below.
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For more on screen time limits, check this out from Common Sense Media: How much screen time is OK for my kid(s)?)