It is increasingly clear that technology is an important part of our daily lives. The average American household has 11 connected devices including seven with screens to view content. Not surprisingly, screen time has become one of the most highly discussed topics among parents who are trying to figure out how to manage children’s technology use.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, screens have become more than just a source of entertainment for watching videos and playing video games. Children and teens are using technology for virtual education and staying connected with friends and family. Technology has become a lifeline during the pandemic and it is important to acknowledge that some of the growth of children’s screen time is essential. As life gradually goes back to normal with more in-person activities, some parents are wondering how to find a healthy balance of screen time.
One trusted source of information for parents is the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which has developed guidelines for media use for various ages of children.
- Under 18 months, limit screen use to video chatting along with an adult (for example, with a parent who is out of town).
- Between 18 and 24 months, screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
- For children 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about one hour per weekday and three hours on the weekend days.
- For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
While the AAP guidelines offer clear recommendations for younger children, the guidelines are less clear as children grow older. This is where parents need to determine the healthy balance of screens in their own households. Here are some things to consider in navigating technology use.
- Parents can set limits — Setting limits and expectations on technology use is no different than setting limits on junk food, soda or anything else. While children may tell parents that their friends get more screen time or have their own iPhones, it is up to each parent to decide what is best for their household.
- Balance screen time with other activities — There is only so much time in the day. The more time children spend on screens means there is less time to spend on other activities. Many of these activities such as exercise, sleep, family time and hobbies are important to the healthy growth, development and well-being of children.
- Monitor and Protect — An important role of parents is monitoring and protecting children. When a child has a play date, parents know where the child is and who he/she is with. The same is true of screen time — parents should monitor a child’s technology use and know exactly what a child is doing online and who they are engaging with. This includes talking with children about not revealing personal information or chatting with people online, and considering use of online “parental controls.”
Create a Family Media Plan — Families can create a personalized plan at healthychildren.org
- . The plan helps families walk through various options such as screen-free zones such as mealtimes or family gatherings; device curfews to protect sleep; limits on the daily use of screens; limits on which web sites a child can visit; and balancing online and off-line time.
- Model and Teach — Parents can model and teach healthy technology use to children by respecting screen free zones and putting technology away during family time.
For families who are interested in learning more on how to help tweens and teens manage the stresses of screen time, a virtual screening of the documentary, “Screenagers Next Chapter: Uncovering Skills for Stress Resilience” will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 6. Registration and more information can be found at scjohnson.com/CIP or call 262-260-2154. The event is organized by the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health, Racine Unified School District, Children’s Wisconsin — Community Service, SC Johnson’s Golden Rondelle Theater and Extension Racine County.
Sarah Hawks is a family and community educator for Extension Racine County, a Department of UW-Madison.