Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Oct. 27, 2015

Screen Time: It Isn't About Minutes

Program Coordinator, FOSI

The American Association of Pediatrics updated their guidelines to encourage parents to think of the screen as just another environment their children interact in. Previously the guidelines stated that we should limit children to two hours of screen time a day and children under the age of two should not be exposed to screens at all. 

If you have been able to adhere to those guidelines, I applaud you. Screens and tech have become such an integrated part of our daily lives that many families find sticking to the guidelines impossible. The new guidelines recognize this, and have been updated to reflect what parents are already doing.  The updates state that all environments have positive and negative effects and it is how we teach our children to balance those effects that make all the difference. 

The screen is just another type of environment that children are active in. We can no longer classify all time spent in front of a screen as passive. So instead of obsessing over how many minutes and seconds our children are spending in front of a screen, we need to focus on the experience. How are they using the time in front of the screen? Are they learning how to create a healthy balance between environments that involve a screens and ones that don’t? Are they learning to manage their time in a way that has positive impacts for them?

We need to accept that the usage of tech isn’t a separate entity but simply just part of the daily equation. Instead of counting minutes, follow these tips to make sure that time spent in front of the screen is time well spent. 

Limit where the devices are used

Set areas in the home where devices live or are allowed to travel. For example, no tablets or cellphones in your child’s bedroom. Explain to your child that this isn’t a trust issue but instead talk to them about how screens can affect the quality of sleep and the importance of being well rested. How sometimes it is important to just take a break and engage in activities that don’t involve the screen. 

Parents have found success doing this by creating a charging station for the home. This is an area where everyone in the home plugs in their devices for charging. Set a time that all devices need to present for charging. For example, all devices must be plugged in for charging from 9 pm- 7am. 

Set a time when the screened devices have to be turned off. (This includes your deceives

Instead of setting a usage limit, instead set a deadline for each day. For example, at 9 pm every night the devices need to be turned off. This includes the TV. If your child has homework that requires them to use the device past the determined cut off time, allow them to continue using the device but ask them what would be a reasonable time for completion and hold them to it. Also remember, you need to set the example. If screens are to be off at 9 pm, then try to turn yours off too. 

Sit down with your child occasionally when they do their homework

Get a good idea of how much time in front of the screen your child needs to get through their assignments, by sitting down with them while they complete them. Ask them about their researching process and provide tips or advice if applicable. Take this as an opportunity to talk to your child about staying on task, because we all know that there are distractions on the web. 

Encourage kids to have offline activities and hobbies in addition to their online ones

There are a lot of really fun things to do online. Great articles to read, games to play, social activities, you name it and you can do it online. Encourage your child to do these things. It is ok to spend some unconstructive or leisure time on screens. In addition make sure you encourage them to find some offline interest as well. Take them to the library to pick out a physical book, have them help you cook dinner or participate in a sport. Show them different ways they can integrate their screen lives with their off screen lives. For example, have them look up a recipe online, then have them help you cook it.  One of my favorites online/offline integrations is using a screen to document your offline hobby. It could be a blog, photo book, video or just a plain old word document where they record their off screen adventures. Get creative with it! 

Be a good digital role model 

We all know by now that children no matter what age operate under the “monkey see monkey do” philosophy. If you have your phone out at the dinner table they will think it is ok to have theirs out too. If you are answering emails while they are talking to you then they will think it is ok to play video games while you talk to them. Children look to their parents to be the example. Show your child that you can be responsible about your time in front of the screen. 

The bottom line is, that screens are now another area in life where we need to teach children to make choices that are healthy and balanced for them. While screentime limits have been revised remember that every child and family is different and therefore there isn’t a set formula that we can apply. Set limitations and rules that make sense for your family and engage with your child to make sure they are making the most of their time in front of the screen.