What you want for your kids is probably similar to what I want; kids who grow up to be healthy in mind and body, have deep relationships and warm hearts, who ask intelligent questions and engage with the world, who do satisfying, preferably lucrative, work, and feel connected to nature.
The thought of screen time numbing them to the wonders of people and the world terrifies me. I also get that technology can offer amazing insights and connections.
The key is finding balance as a family.
I read a study that said kids today engage with technology on average 7.5 hours per day. That’s a scary number. It’s like a full time job.
The study also said that ‘heavy users’ suffer from poor grades, boredom, moodiness, they’re less happy at school and feel disconnected from parents.
The folks at the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend no more than 1-2 hours of screen time per day for kids and teens, and no screen time at all for kids under 2. Sounds reasonable.
Here are some common sense family guidelines to finding balance between screen time and a well-rounded life.
1. Limit screen time. Be specific about how much time your kids can spend on all forms of media (TV, computers, video games, cell phones, etc.) per day. The AAP recommends 1-2 hours total for kids and teens.
2. Be clear about what content is allowed. Monitor kids’ media choices to ensure high quality content and to protect against potential violence, sexually explicit content, glorified tobacco and alcohol use, and sassy attitude.
3. Decrease access by decreasing how many screen time platforms are in your home. How many computers, TV’s, DVD players, video game consoles and Tivo/DVR units do you have? Reduce the number as much as possible.
4. Create a list of technology family rules and make sure to enforce them. Research shows that when parents set family rules, children engage in less screen time. Microsoft recommends that you include the kinds of sites that are off limits, internet hours, what information should not be shared online, and guidelines for communicating with others online, including social networking.
5. Make the bedroom a screen-free zone. Today over 70% of 8-18 year olds have TV’s in their room, half have a video game player or cable TV, and 30% have a computer and internet access. The AAP recommends making bedrooms screen-free.
6. Make meals a screen-free zone. No devices at the table.
7. Make homework a screen-free time.
8. Have rules for media in the car, especially if you have screens built into the car. For example, no screen time unless the car ride is over 1 hour. Make it a habit of keeping books in the car and talking about what you see out the window.
9. Limit media multi-tasking, doing 2 types of media at once, i.e. texting while watching TV or doing computer while watching TV. Some experts fear that media multi-tasking contributes to kids’ inability to focus.
10. Set clear rules for TV, how much and which shows are allowed. Using a DVR will help decrease exposure to advertising.
11. Have rules or a contract for cell phones and other mobile devices (iPods/MP3 players, cell phones, and handheld video game players) : The 18-point contract from this mom is a must read.
12. Have rules for computers and specify which people kids can connect with online. Read this FBI warning about how online predators try to lure their victims.
13. Internet-connected devices should be in shared, open spaces so parents can keep an eye on content kids are accessing.
14. Keep personal info private. Insist that your children not share personal information such as their name, address, phone number, or passwords with people they meet online. Help them create online nicknames.
15. Have rules for video games, whether at home on a console, handheld player, or on a cell phone. Eliminate violent and sexually explicit content.
16. Give mobile devices a curfew. Set up a charging station in a shared room like the kitchen, decide on a curfew (i.e. 7:30pm), and insist that mobile devices be left in the ‘parking lot’ until morning.
17. Decide that boredom is ok. If your kids tell you they’re bored, list all the cleaning jobs you have for them. They’ll magically learn how to entertain themselves. Keep a good healthy supply of books, art supplies and outdoor toys around.
18. Be a role model. Expose your kids to the richness that lies beyond screen time like hiking, camping, and biking!