The reality is we are surrounded by screens. Even as adults it is a challenge to manage the amount of time we spend looking at a screen throughout the day. If it is a challenge for adults to manage, it’s totally understandable that it is even more difficult for children to deal with. When we visit schools to talk to children and teenagers about staying safe online, many children are not conscious of the amount of time that they spend in front of screen each day. So, how can you work collaboratively with your child to manage their use of screens?
Taking some time to review your own use of screens is a good place to start. If your child sees you very regularly using screens, in a myriad of situations it is likely that they will model this behaviour. Also, in particular where teenagers are concerned, you will have limited room for negotiation in if your teenagers perceives that you have difficulty managing your own use of screens. A good way to start a family conversation about the use of screens is to suggest that all members of the family spend a period of time at the weekend, free from screens and participating in an activity together. If your children see that the adults in the family are an integral part of the management of screentime it is likely to be more of a success.
In late 2016 The American Academy of Paediatrics released updated guidelines on screentime. These include:
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
These guidelines are undoubtedly sensible and are certainly achievable. It is a good idea to start with something easy to implement, for example having screen free locations in your house. Also, having regular conversations with your child about building a consciousness of their use of screens will help them to create a balance in their use.
Screens are increasingly becoming a part of childhood, helping your child to manage their use and create a healthy balance is a central part of being a parent in a digital age!