I’m sure you’ve all heard a variety of different things from the media about electronics and children. It’s difficult to sort out. Electronics are part of our lives and we cannot avoid them. In fact, most people don’t want to avoid them and look forward to using the latest and greatest technology. As a behavioral health provider, my concern is for children and how electronics affect socialization and emotional health.
While counseling, it’s not rare for me to hear children complain that their parents have no time to play with them or do other things because the parents are always on their phones. Every day I observe parents in the waiting room with their phones in hand and their children on their tablet, instead of interacting with each other. I’ve had parents come worried because they found their child, under the age of ten, watching pornography online. I have even had children regret getting tablets for Christmas because of how their lives have changed.
When we talk about screen time, we are referring to all the time that a person spends in-front of a screen. A screen can be a phone, a tablet, TV or computer. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind when thinking about how you are going to control your children’s screen time:
Supervise screen time
Recommendations on screen time vary depending on the age of the child, but there is one rule that applies to children of all ages (18 and younger); adults should be supervising their children’s screen time.
Family media-free time
Set aside specific media-free family time. During these times, everyone in the family has screens put away. These can be meals to enjoy food and share information about the day. Every day rides in the car, like on the way to school or sports practices, can be great opportunities to put devices away and talk with kids.
Screen free bedtime
Bed time routines should have one hour of no screen time before bed. This allows the brain to wind off and produce melatonin for a good night of sleep.
Screen free zones
Establish screen-free zones. It could be the bedrooms, to ensure everyone is sleeping when theyshould be without electronic interruptions. Remember, adults need to sleep between 7-8 hours per night and children younger than 9yrs need at least 10 hours of sleep.
Talk about what you see
Talk about what you see during screen-time. The material that comes to us and our kids via electronics can be educational or far from it. Talking about it can help us all learn from it. Talk about being a good citizen and using media in a respectful way. One thing I have suggested in the therapy room is to teach your kids to do online things that you would do in front of the person you admire the most. Discuss safety issues with your children about chatting with people online that they haven’t met in person, sharing personal information and sharing pictures.
Location, location, location
Put up your electronics in public spaces in your house. Computers and TVs should be in areas where other family members are to provide appropriate supervision and encourage behaviors that are safe.
Real life relationships
Screen-time is not real life. To create relationships, we need to look into each other’s eyes. We need to observe facial and physical expressions. We need physical contact. Our time spent in front of screens needs to be less than the time we spend with real people, friends and family.
We like to move it, move it
Our bodies need movement. Consider how you are using your body when using electronics. When our body is stuck hunched over for hours, or only repeating the same movements, those body parts may suffer. We need to move to have healthy bodies and our body needs a variety of activities in order to utilize all the muscles we have.
Want an easy visual with more recommendations? The American Academy of Pediatrics has easy to follow recommendations for children and screen time: