Ten Screen Time Tips - Guidelines for Digital-Age Parenting

Ten Screen Time Tips

Part 1. Welcome to the World Wide Web

When it comes to screen time, each family needs to experiment with what works best for them. Are you a ‘screen time rules’ or ‘screen time guidelines’ kind of family? The rules or expectations that are appropriate for your son should change as they mature.

  • When Is Your Kid Ready? Develop some basic skills before use. 

There are pragmatic concerns about when it’s a good time to get a phone or otherwise level up a child’s screen use; safety, social capital, responsibility, etc. Melinda Wenner Moyer, an author on parenting, writes about some other considerations worth putting into focus.

  • Do they have the social and emotional skills to be respectful towards others online? 
  • Can your son unplug? Are there already battles over existing screen time? 
  • Does he show good social judgement around issues like privacy?

These are some of the skills that you should look for, but it’s important that your son knows what you’re looking for. He can’t meet your standards if he doesn’t know what they are. Make these issues an ongoing discussion that ties back to screen time.

  • Screen Time Contracts/You Can’t Put the Genie Back in the Bottle

If you give your child unbridled access to screens or set no expectations around them, you’ll get a lot of push back if you try to impose screen time limits down the line. Prior to having access to screens or something like a cell phone, a child or teen will make nearly any concession in exchange for having a new phone or video game system. Don’t squander that openness to expectations and consequences.

If you unexpectedly punish your child and ask them to hand over their phone, they’ll likely have a big reaction to the threat of losing connection to their world.. A pre-established consequence as part of a contract eliminates the shock and surprise that would come with a punishment.

  • Screen Time Is a Gift…For You, as a Parent

Parents often have to remind their children that screen time is a privilege and not a right. In that sense, it is a gift. But it can also be a gift to parents. It’s a reasonable expectation for parents to insist that after-school screen time comes once chores and homework are completed. Feel free to tag on anything else that need be done before screens are an option. Some parents say that screen time shouldn’t start without a check-in with parents. Flavor to your family’s taste. This also works to establish healthy habits and routines, which can be the cornerstone of sanity for any household.  If your child wants screen time beyond what’s part of their media allowance, this could be something that’s earned. Screen time is great leverage for a parent, especially if you have tight reins on screen time.

  • Screen Time Bank

One idea that has gotten some traction with my clients over the years is the use of a screen time bank for families who have strict limits on screen time. A complaint that I would often hear was that a child would start a new twenty-minute video game when he has four minutes of screen time left. The reason is simple, he doesn’t want to willy-nilly give up his screen time when it is so precious. A screen time bank could be a next step in learning to self-regulate around technology. Leftover time (those four precious minutes) just carries over to the following day. Note: your son can’t let days of screen time all carry over for a sleepless weekend of gaming. And it’s a screen time bank but if you need to hire an accountant to track it, it’s not working.

  • Computers Have a Sleep Mode and So Should Your Child

Screens emit a blue light that trick us into thinking it’s daytime and robs us of our melatonin, the hormone that guides our sleep cycle. Screens before bed (roughly within 45 minutes) make it harder to go to sleep, harder to wake-up, and then the actual sleep quality is terrible as well. A lot of teens might be inclined to be “on call” with their friends 24/7. Help them establish healthy boundaries.

  • Family Charging Station/Tech Launch Pad 

A family charging station is a designated place for everyone to keep electronics plugged in.  Once screens have a central location, it can double as a tech launch pad. That is a place to put everyday essentials so that they’re easy to find. It saves everyone from a frantic morning search party for your son’s phone or Chromebook.

  • Model Behavior (Part 1) 

Research supports that the face that people make while concentrating, i.e. while parents are on their phones, can be perceived as anger. And if you have a young child who thinks the world revolves around them — as is developmentally appropriate — that means that when you’re on your phone, your child could think you’re angry with them. Consider limiting screen use around your child.  It also models prioritizing people over screens.

Model Behavior Pro Tip. If you want to level up modeling heathy screen use, consider narrating some of your pick-ups if they interrupt the flow of an interaction with your child. That might look like, “I’m just going to check on that recipe we’re making.” Or, “Look! Nana learned how to text! Let’s see what she has to say.”  How wonderful would it be if, down the road, your son practiced this screen transparency habit around you?

  • Get Involved

When you are curious about what your child is doing online — especially things like Minecraft, about which you may know very little — it allows your child to take the lead and experience competency in being the expert teaching you.  BONUS: the more that your child feels like you listen to them, the more likely they are to listen to you.

  • Cultivate Boredom 

There is a growing body of research that shows that boredom is essential to children’s mental health and emotional development. Boredom fosters imagination, grit, self-awareness, creativity, problem-solving skills, a capacity to be present in the world, etc. Like many things worthwhile, cultivating boredom will likely cause some discomfort. But after-all, you signed up to be a parent…not a cruise director who needs to constantly entertain the little human living with you. Consider designating certain hours on certain days as screen-free time for the whole family.

  • Practice Forgiveness

Learning what’s most appropriate for your child is going to be an unfolding process. As part of this learning process, it’s important to be forgiving with your child when things go awry. But you also need to be forgiving with yourself as a parent. As important as it may be to have rules or guidelines around screen time, it is also valuable to have exceptions. If you come home from a rough day at the office and you have an especially short fuse, it might be best if everyone has a little space and you practice some self-care. That may involve your child spending more time on screens than is the norm for your household. When there are exceptions to the rules, I recommend making it clear that this is an exception and perhaps also state the reason for it. This prevents the confusion of your son thinking any exception is the new rule.

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