With smartphones, video games, and personal laptops for homework, technology feels like an inevitable part of everyday life for kids. With increased access to technology, it has become even more important that parents create a safe digital environment and help children develop healthy screen habits.
When used in moderation, screen time can have educational benefits. But unhealthy screen use can impede development. For younger kids, we don’t want to inhibit the fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination that are developed from activities like drawing and playing kickball with friends. For older kids, we want to ensure they get enough opportunities to engage with their environment and interact with friends and family, face-to-face, to develop important social skills.
How much is too much?
General guidance is no more than two hours of screen time per day over the age of 2. But rather than being hung up on the length of time, think more about the quality of the program or game, and make sure it is age appropriate. You know your child best, and if you notice that screen time or what they are consuming is having a negative impact, it’s time to make changes, which may include:
- Setting clear limits around important family activities, such as no screens during dinner time, no gadgets before bed, or no tablets while getting ready for school.
- Putting more emphasis on positive developmental activities, such as reading books or spending time with friends.
The murky world of the internet
For kids who can read, it’s important they understand that not everything they read online is true. Tell them which news outlets are reliable sources and that they can double-check anything they read with you. Emphasize that they should also talk to you if they encounter information that makes them feel angry or sad. Providing that comfort alleviates a lot of the stress of the big, scary internet.
Time for social media?
While the minimum age requirement for most social media platforms is 13, many kids begin asking early, so it’s essential to talk about expectations. Ask them why they want to use it, how they plan to use it, and how you will be involved. Maybe, one of the conditions of starting a social media profile is that you have the login information, too. Even if your child is 13, before they sign up, ask yourself if they are mature enough to filter out false information and how they will handle negativity or difficult conversations.
Teaching healthy screen habits is a constant work in progress, but being tuned in and having a positive relationship with your child will make these transitions easier.