Screentime, it can be a challenging topic to deal with as it is the one area that affects both parents and children when it comes to staying safe online and creating a healthy online, offline balance. Even as adults it can be difficult to manage our screentime and to set a limit on it as screens are everywhere. As a consequence we can easily lose track of how many hours we are actually spending looking at information through a screen.

So, if this is a challenge for adults no wonder it is also one for kids! As of the summer of 2013 Internet Use Disorder was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. Nicole Crawford, Editorial Manager with website ‘Breaking Muscle’, explains what was needed in order to be included in the manual; ‘In order to be added to the manual, research had to demonstrate not only that screen time can become a regular habit that has the potential to disrupt daily life, but also that there is neurological evidence to back up that claim. Like other addictions, screen time creates notable changes in brain chemistry – most notably, in the release of dopamine. This neurotransmitter, also known as the pleasure chemical, plays a role in sugar addiction. When kids develop a dopamine habit during early childhood, be it through sugary treats or computer games, more serious problems may ensue.’

Information like this can feel overwhelming for parents, but there are a few simple things you can do to help to ensure that for your child there is a safe balance, where screentime for your child is concerned.

Firstly, modelling sensible use of technology works wonders, particularly with younger children. Show your child through example, that you prioritise time off screens and engage it a variety of activities that do not involve the use of screens.

Consider creating a ‘digital contract’ for your family. In essence this is a document drawn up by the whole family as to the ‘rules’ that everyone in the family will abide by for staying safe online. It is then signed by both parents and children. Incorporate a reasonable number of hours of screentime into any ‘digital contract’ your family creates.

Encourage your child to have a healthy online, offline balance. Promote the importance of being involved in sports, meeting with friends, spending time as a family and over the summer in particular, taking part in summer camps or planned family or community excursions.

At Zeeko we have developed the 5:1 Rule in relation to screentime. When we visit primary schools throughout the country to talk to children about staying safe online we talk to the children about screentime using this rule. Essentially the 5:1 rule encourages children to see screentime as a balance, for every one hour they spend on screens should be balanced by 5 hours of what we call  ‘real world’ activities.

The reality is that screens are now part of family life. The important thing is to promote and encourage a healthy balance regarding their use. Here is a great article with additional information on the impact of screens on a child’s brain from Psychology Today

The Zeeko Internet Safety Guide provides more detailed advice on keeping your child safe online. You can buy a copy of the book here.

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