Screens are everywhere.  Phones, tablets, ebooks, computers, handheld game systems, etc.  It is nearly impossible to keep screens away from our children these days.  Technology can be beneficial to children. Preschoolers can play games that solidify their understanding of letters and their sounds.  School children can get homework help by watching YouTube. Teens can stay connected to their friends. But too much screen time or the wrong kind of media exposure can be harmful to our children.  Today, I will outline expert recommendations on how to create a better system for your children’s media use.

Over the years there has been various recommendations regarding children and their exposure to screens.  First, experts agreed that children under 2 should not be allowed to watch television. Then there were time suggestions.  For example, only 1 hour of television per day. Now, experts are beginning to understand that screens are everywhere and limiting screen time is a struggle in most homes.  Current recommendations follow a more balanced approach. If your child plays video games for one hour then encourage one hour of outside play or one hour of reading.  Technology is a part of daily life, but too much of anything can be unhealthy.   

Know what your kids are watching and how they are watching it.  Studies show a link between aggressive or violent videos/video games and aggression in children.  Some children are more prone to violence after too much exposure to media regardless of the content of the media.  Pay attention to your child’s mood and behavior after playing video games or streaming videos. Does his or her behavior change?  If so, explore reducing their media time. It is so easy for children who are playing an educational game on a tablet to click on something inappropriate.  In my practice, I have had children as young as 8 become exposed to pornographic images on devices that the parent thought was locked from adult content.  It is critical that you know what your kids are watching. I encourage you to have your children use screens in family areas of the home like the kitchen or family room so that you can check on what they are watching. 

Setting up systems can help ensure a safer media experience.  

  • Only allow screens in rooms where you can monitor your children.  This allows for more transparency. Consider making bedrooms “technology free zones”.
  • Disable the web from your child’s device.  If you child needs to look something up, you can look it up together.  Although search engines like Google try to block adult content, there is no guarantee that your child will not be exposed to inappropriate content while searching the web.  
  • Set timers for devices.  How many times have you gotten on your phone to check an email and found yourself checking Instagram?  Kids can easily get sucked into content as well. I recommend setting timers.
  • Have your children earn time on their devices.  For example, reading for 30 minutes equals 30 minute of screen time.  
  • Consider no devices during school nights.
  • Download a screen-time tracking or parental-control app:
    • Boomerang Parental Control. Get the app now.
    • Parental Control & Kid Tracker
    • KidCrono
    • ScreenTime
    • Qustodio
    • ESET
    • Norton Family
    • Limitly
    • ScreenLimit

I encourage you to be more mindful of your children’s media use.  More and more studies are linking social media to increases in depression among adolescents.  Tablets and phones are amazing. They allow us to connect with friends and family around the world and allow us to complete limitless tasks.  As Voltaire said “With great power comes great responsibility”. It is important for our children’s health that we monitor their use and create improved systems that keep them safe.  I also encourage you to set a good example.  Most of parenting is modeling the behavior that you would like to see in your children.  If you are on your phone, tablet, computer, etc., chances are that they will want to be, too.  Think about how you can improve your own relationship with media.  

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