Doctors Notes:

Tips for Screentime




Your baby always grabs your bright screen, your toddler constantly asks for a show, or your teen is constantly caught with their phone in hand.  Sound familiar? Technology is an important part of modern day life, but how do you know when it’s keeping your children from learning and growing in other important ways? Here are a few tips to limit technology use in the home so, your child can have a healthy and balanced life.

 Be clear on when and where your child can have screen time:

Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under 18 months are discouraged from the use of screen time, with the exception of video chatting. Children 18 to 24 months should still be limited to no screen time but if the parent chooses to introduce devices, the parent should be using screen time with the child, as that is how they learn. Children two to five years old should be limited to one hour a day and children over the age of six should have consistent limits for any screen time including television, video games, tablet or phone use. Even if the screen time is “educational”, ensure children are doing other activities to help them learn.

As a family, decide on a family media plan and what that looks like for family members. Apple devices can be formatted so you can set restrictions on how much phone and tablet use your child has each day. You can ban certain apps and make it so the child has to request more screen time. There are even apps for parents where you can monitor your kid’s online activity! For older children, they may feel violated if they knew you were watching their every move but having less restrictions is a privilege.

Explain to your child/teen reasons behind the rules. For instance, explain that you want your family to be healthier and more productive or, that you care too much about your child to have them waste the day away. You could explain how lack of exercise is correlated to higher levels of depression as well as an increased self-esteem. Or, explain how screen time takes away from face to face relationships, hinders communication skills as well as other negative impacts.  Make it a family challenge but the key is to model it. Try and limit phone use when in the presence of your children. If your job entails you to be on the phone often, try and do so when your children are outside or playing.  Get your kids excited about turning things off and doing “productive things” around the house. It might take them a while to come around but be consistent and let them know you are serious about wanting to implement new house rules and eventually, your energy will be passed down.

Enforce limits:

Whatever you do, do not turn back on the boundaries you have already established as a house. Little kids may throw a tantrum when you take back the tablet and teenagers may not talk to you for a while but they will be fine. It is completely normal for them to test you and see how serious you are but stay strong and walk away from the crying child if you need to. If you made it a house rule of two hours a day for tablet time and the two hours is up, do not be persuaded when they cry for longer time.

Trial and error things to see what works for your child. Set an alarm for the time they are allowed to have screen time. Once the alarm goes off, have them place the tablet back on the counter and if the tablet is not on the counter within a reasonable amount of time, then they will have less tablet time the following day. Some parents charge a device to only 50% a day. Once the battery runs out, the child must find something else to do. Other parents only allow their teen’s phone to charge on the kitchen counter or, the parent may turn off their home’s internet until the child is finished with homework and chores. If your child is a video gamer, take the cord when you go to bed or work so, they are unable to play all day/night long. You are not being mean, you are setting boundaries for your children so they can have a healthy and balanced life.

Although setting limits is good, ensure the child/teen’s consequence are applicable to their behavior. For instance, if they missed curfew because they were with friends, talk to them about the importance of being home at the designated time then, limit them going out with friends the next weekend. If they neglect chores due to not putting down the phone or turning off the television, talk to them about why those rules are in place then put restrictions on them using their phone.  Per an article published by Child Mind Institute, “When you remove a teen’s lifeline to their friends, there will be a major emotional backlash, a breakdown of the parent-child relationship.” With that, there are times to take away a phone (especially when nothing else seems to be impactful) however, taking a teen’s phone as the “go-to” can cause the child to withdraw from their parent as well as, may promote sneaky behavior. In addition, when parents take away a phone and then search it, teens often feel as if their parents do not trust them and in result, they might not trust their parent. Talk to your teen about using the phone appropriately and possibly have random phone checks opposed to only checking it when they are in trouble. Explain the purpose for the checks- that you want to guarantee they are safe and promote “living in the light”. Although teens may become stressed when their phone is taken, remember that having a phone is a privilege that they earn, not a right that they are entitled to.

 Stay Safe:

Make sure you know who your child talks to and explain why it is important. If the child is in middle school or younger, maybe add a child specific web browser. Many teens allow their account to be public or accept followers whom they do not know.  Adding your child on social media to follow their activity is not being a helicopter parent but it is letting them know you care enough to monitor from a distance. Parents tend to follow their adolescent on Instagram but many teens have “spam accounts” where they can post what they want. Middle school aged children are downloading apps that place them in chat rooms and their parents have no idea. If you feel it is appropriate, put guidelines on their phone where you can see what they are doing and for younger children,  collect their screen names and pass words and google tips for parents navigating the social media world. As technology is advancing and becoming part of our children’s everyday life, make sure you stay educated, consistent with screen time rules and in tune to your child’s life.