Screen time — how much is too much — is a red-hot issue right now and for good reasons. Now, with several decades of a technology-saturated lifestyle behind us, the research repeatedly tells us: Too much screen time can be detrimental to kids.
Balance is the new black when it comes to screen time. However, if you are parenting younger children, you may be confused by the mixed signals surrounding you. Studies state the risks, yet everywhere you turn, the retail shelves are brimming with digital products targeting babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Which way should a parent turn?
The Wee Ones
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping all screens off around babies and toddlers younger than 18 months. They note that a small amount of screen time is acceptable for older toddlers and that children two and older should get no more than an hour of screen time per day as long as it’s quality shows or games.
So the focus remains on balance for the entire family. It’s tempting to use technology as a babysitter when your kids are younger (guilty party, right here!). However, the more we know about the downside of too much screen time, the more motivating it is to curb it. If you are parenting a younger crew, here are some basics to keep in mind if you want to stay on top of their screen time.
5 Tech Principles for Young Families
- Set goals early. When your kids are still babies, sit down with your partner and develop a healthy screen time plan. What is healthy for your child? What works in the context of your family? If you decide on 30 minutes a day of a specific program or interactive game, stick to that limit. As difficult as it can be at times, try to avoid the temptation to calm a crying baby or toddler with television, tablet, or a handheld game. Options to screens depending on age might include books, a stroller ride, exploring outdoors, self-directed play, music, touch/sensory toys, face-to-face play. Every age group will vary on acceptable screen time. When kids get older, establish family ground rules and attach consequences to those rules. Be sure you do your part, parent. Don’t leave kids unsupervised with their technology, keep screens out of bedrooms, and monitor their connected devices and online activity. Revisit your ground rules from time to time and make sure your child not only understand the rules but also why they are necessary. When age-appropriate, be sure to include kids in amending ground rules, so they feel the rules are in place to protect a privilege and not a punishment.
- Limit and co-view content. The AAP recommends for children ages two to five years of age, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. Also, parents should consider co-viewing media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- Be consistent, maintain balance over time. For children, ages six and older, the AAP recommends placing consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media. Make every effort screen time does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to your child’s health.
- Media free time. Establish media-free family times as well as zones such as the bedroom, dinner table, car time and restaurants. Keep in mind that modeling this behavior, as a parent is key to your child adopting his or her healthy screen time habits. Be aware of the time you spend on devices and binging on those TV shows — your kids are watching and absorbing your media habits.
- Start talking early and often. It’s never too early to start having the technology discussion. Just as you teach a child why eating cake for every meal isn’t healthy, so too, for health reasons, limits must be put on screen time. As kids begin interacting with peers online, start talking about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
No doubt about it — technology has improved our lives in incredible ways and enhanced every part of our culture from education to health, to entertainment, to business. However, as parents, it’s critical to present our kids with the whole picture, which includes the ways technology, if poorly used, can threaten our quality of life. Helping kids understand that too much technology can make you tired, cranky, and even harm your brain, has become part of our role as digital parents, caregivers, and grandparents.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).