Written by: Lindsey Anuzis, MA, LCMHCA, NCC, RBT
We are living in a time where everything as we know it is becoming electronic or digital. Workout equipment, vacuums, cars, our methods of communication, jobs, even education for some! While digital technology does have its benefits, too much screen time (phones, iPad, computers, and TV) can have negative implications on children and adolescent’s mental health!
Research gathered from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Psychology Today, and ChildMind.org, found that the average teen spends about nine hours a day on a screen. We’re talking Pre-COVID times too. That is equivalent to a full-time job! Studies have found that spending two hours a day or more on social media can contribute to anxiety and unhappiness in teens. Furthermore, about half of all the teens in the study stated they were addicted to their cell phone, and approximately 66% of parents felt their teens spent too much time on their phones.
Some signs indicative of your child having too much screen time may include, withdrawal from social interactions, increased levels of anxiety and stress, feeling overwhelmed by normal routines, decreased academic performance and avoidance of responsibility. So you may be wondering, “What can I do?” A general rule is to limit screen time at home to 60-90 minutes per day; however, this may seem nearly impossible within a virtual learning environment. So, while the general rule is 60-90 minutes of screen time per day, with COVID and virtual learning changing things, it is nearly impossible to follow this guideline. Instead, talk with your kids about setting limits. While most of their school time is likely virtual right now, explain that they are still permitted to have some recreational screen time, but it is even more important now to take breaks from screens and engage in other recreational activities or social interactions. If this is a change for your child or teenager, talk with them about it and slowly implement changes. Depending on your child’s age, you have some options for managing screen use!
Birth -24 months:
- Children this young should not have any screen time with the exception of maybe video chatting loved ones (with your assistance).
Preschool age kids:
- Preschoolers should have no more than one hour of screen time per day. While it may be tempting to utilize TV/iPad as a way to give yourself a break, there are other options! This is a crucial time for your kids to develop their play and social skills! Traditional toys, such as cause and effect toys can be just as valuable, as well as educational!
- When they do have screen time, engage, play, and interact with them! Kids learn best by watching you- this is also a great time to reinforce things they have already learned!
School age kids:
- Create a schedule, identifying when screen time is appropriate, and when it can be expected (i.e. as a break after school before starting homework, or before dinner). This will help to manage expectations and provide structure.
- Model healthy screen use. Be mindful of any potential binge-watching or obsessive social media scrolling habits you may have!
- Do your research on apps for your kids. Just because they are labeled as “educational” does not mean they are of high quality.
- Screen time shouldn’t always be alone time. Co-watch, co-play, or co-engage with your children when they are using screens. You can comment on things shown in the media that do and don’t align with your values and encourage your children to watch things more actively.
- Continue to utilize the schedule, and family media contract, and adapt them to the maturity levels of your kids.
- If your kid has a cell phone, explain to them that texting can be tricky. It is easy for people to misinterpret conversations when they are hearing the tone of your voice or seeing your facial expressions and body language. Refrain from going through their texts unless you have a valid reason to be concerned. This can lead to the development of trust issues, and can even encourage kids to start hiding things from you.
- Discuss internet safety with your kids- who should and should not be their “friends”, and what appropriate behavior on the internet looks like
- You may be tempted to “friend” your child on social media as means to monitor their use; however, this can come off as smothering. Look for other ways to monitor their use, or limit their screen time with things like screen use timers for certain apps (available for Facebook and Instagram).
- Continue to implement and update the schedule and contract, in addition to enforcing consequences.
- Continue to discuss internet safety with your kids.
- Show them how to expand their screen and internet use for practical things such as researching a college, or finding a job etc.
- Require them to “unplug” from technology at least an hour before bed to ensure better quality of sleep and reduce impact of blue light on their eyes and brain.
With our world becoming more digitally expansive by the day, managing screen time for your kids can be challenging. The biggest take away is to manage your kid’s expectations of what screen time looks like. You may be tempted to utilize screens as rewards or consequences for behavior because they are highly preferred and overvalued. However, with the added screen time required for virtual learning, allowing additional screen time to be contingent on behavior voids the structure you have created through the schedule and family contract, and can easily exacerbate screen time each day. Instead, discuss other methods of reinforcement with your kids, this will not only promote collaboration and buy in, but can improve your relationship as well!