GROWING UP DIGITAL
What you suspect is true: the amount of time kids spend staring at screens is alarmingly high. A 2010 Kaiser Foundation study found that children between 8 and 18 spend an average of 7 and a half hours a day with digital media: watching TV, playing video games, or on phones, ipads or computers. Again, that study was in 2010. Researchers think screen time hours are even higher now. Other studies suggest that the unremitting attraction to digital media may be linked to things like childhood obesity, sleep problems, behavioral issues, poor school performance and a decline in empathy.
Managing screen time is challenging because electronic media can be so alluring — and even habit forming. We recommend creating a family media plan to help the adults and kids in the house develop a healthy digital diet. Meanwhile, you'll be providing opportunities for critically important (and continuing) conversations with your children about how to handle a technological onslaught that will only grow.
-Jenny Friedman, Executive Director
CREATING A FAMILY MEDIA PLAN
Make a Difference..
Rather than simply setting limits on screen time, use this tool developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to create a family media plan based on your values and parenting style, and your children's ages and needs. Here are ideas to keep in mind.
- Include your kids in the planning. As you're getting a picture of everyone's screen routines in and out of the house, you'll want to listen respectfully and invite input.
- Pay attention to content. Aside from sheer time in front of screens, know what kind of media your children consume. The Harvard Research Project defines high-quality media as "active, hands-on, engaging and empowering" for kids. Also be aware that just because an app is advertised as "educational," doesn't mean it is. Common Sense Media has some great recommendations. But remember: too much screen time can be a problem even if it's high quality.
- Make time for real-world fun. Less screen time frees up time for being outdoors, which is critical to healthy development. Encourage other activities that reflect your family values as well, like reading, volunteering, hanging out with friends, unstructured play, and conversation, which remains a crucial life skill.
- Model healthy digital citizenship. Consider reducing your own screen time as a model for your children. Also ensure that all grownups, even visitors, follow the family rules about technology. No phones at the dinner table goes for adults, too!
- Model how to be present and considerate. Put down your smart phone or disregard your computer and give your kids your full attention when interacting with them.
- Remember that boredom is good! Having some vacant hours teaches your children to make use of leisure time, a life skill that makes them happier and more self-reliant. Boredom can inspire creativity, imagination and inventiveness.
HELP MANEUVER THE MEDIA MAZE
Talk About It.....
Chatting with children about the place of media in their lives can enhance the positive effects -- and mitigate the harmful ones. It also positions you as a "media mentor," someone who doesn't just make rules, but guides your child in navigating the digital world.
- Ask your children how they feel about screen time: What is too much? What kind of impact does it have? What are the benefits? What are the potential downsides? Why are screens so compelling? What might happen if the family unplugged for a day, or a week?
- Creating your media plan will lead your family to consider how you balance time between chores, play, friends, sports, entertainment and homework. What are the high priorities, and what can you sacrifice to make time for them? Explain often about your family's values and how your media rules can reflect those ideals.
- When you watch and use media together, use the occasion to pose questions and discuss important issues: What do you like most about this video game/movie/website/app? Why do you think that character changed her mind in the end? What would you have done if you'd been in her position?
Learn About It.....
For more information about helping your child navigate the digital world, consider these resources:
Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner
Unplug: Raising Kids in a Technology Addicted World by Lisa K. Strohman and Melissa J. Westendorf
The nonprofit site Common Sense Media has great recommendations for movies, books, apps, TV, and more. Its goal is to offer "unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids' lives."
I believe knowledge is better than censorship. I'm not talking about letting your kid run wild on the computer. I'm talking about media literacy. What's important is that kids understand the technologies that surround them. That way new technology can become a useful tool of the child, instead of the child becoming a tool of the technology.
— Linda Ellerbee, journalist, television producer