We made it. It’s summer! It’s time for outside play, but without the structure of school it’s also easy to have too much screen time creep in. I shudder to share this number, but the average child spends seven hours a day on electronic media. Yikes! That is a lot of hours.
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Screen time: the good and the bad
Not all screen time is bad: The digital space is how we learn, do creative activities and communicate. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unknowns and some real down sides. Excessive screen time has health impacts on fitness, sleep, anxiety and depression. Advertisers have certainly noticed those hours on media and now target kids by embedding product advertisements in video games and influencer videos. Other risks include virtual reality encounters with strangers and even calls to action.
While our pre-pandemic rules about screen time feel antiquated, we still need to find a way to balance the benefit of digital media with health and safety. While I do not have all the answers (sorry, I really wish I did!), I know it is important to have family conversations about being thoughtful media users and the value of screen-free time.
Screen time: Make a family media plan
The point of a family media plan is to create a plan that everyone agrees to. It a great way to help set limits and teach children to use media in a healthy way. It is important to take into consideration the age and developmental stage of your child. While each family plan will be different, the goal is to encourage mindful media use. Regardless of the age of your child the first steps involve family conversations.
Here are some helpful suggestions to start off your family media conversation:
1. Online safety: Review rules about how to be safe online. Remind children never to share photos, or information on where they live or go to school. There is no way to control who sees or reshares this information and unfortunately it stays online for a very long time.
2. Digital citizenship: Promote the idea of being good “digital citizens.” This includes checking in to see if your child has been the victim of cyber bullying and talking to them about never posting unkind comments. Simply having this conversation raises awareness and this is good. It is also important to make sure kids of all ages know it is not okay to send or receive pictures of people without clothing or with sexy messages.
3. Appropriate content: This changes with the age and developmental stage of your child. It is perfectly OK to be firm about not viewing content that is not age appropriate and has too much sex, drugs, violence, etc. Ratings can be helpful, but you may need to watch with your child to see if it is at the right level. Trust me, I know this can be difficult. I recently had to turn off a very popular show that my children wanted to watch but it was simply clearly too scary. You can imagine this led to a lot of discussion.
4. The value of screen-free times: I really recommend building in non-negotiable, screen-free times. This can be during meals, after a certain hour in the evening or even a weekend day. It is amazing how after a little bit of complaining kids will find something else to do and is often unexpected and creative. Games, puzzles, art projects, field sports all start to happen when screens are turned off.
5. Sleep disruption: Children need between 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night. Screens in the bedroom and screen viewing within an hour of sleeping are known to have a negative impact on sleep. Check in with your kids and come up with a plan about when screens should be put away for the night.
6. Targeted advertisements: Depending on the age of your child, I suspect you will have a very interesting conversation about targeted advertising. See if your kids recognize when products are being advertised during games and shows. This is a good way to teach kids how to be smart media consumers and how to recognize that advertisement and marketing is really geared toward getting them to buy things.
- 7. Set healthy limits based on age and development: The American Academy of Pediatricians has the following guidelines.
Under 18 months: no screen time
- 18-24 months: occasional, high-quality programming watched with caregiver
- 3-5 years old: no more than 1 hour per day
- School age and teenager: no more than 2 hours per day
A family media plan is not just good for kids. As adults we need to rethink the role that screens play in our own lives: 50% of teens report having a difficult time talking to their parents because parents are on their phones.
There is a lot to talk about when creating a family media plan and a good chance this will take several conversations and revisions. I recommend that when you come up with some concrete rules, everyone agrees to write them down and post them in easy to see spot. It also makes sense to check in periodically and see if it is working and whether things need to be adjusted or discussed.
More from Dr. Block in Seattle’s Child: