Let’s face it — kids love their screen time. Whether using their desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, or other mobile devices, kids of all ages will often spend as much time as they can surfing the Internet, watching online music videos, checking their social media accounts, emailing, instant messaging, watching their favorite programs, and other things.
While screen time is fine in proper moderation, kids tend to spend too much time in front of screens, and this can lead to some troubling consequences. Consider, for example, that the US Department of Health and Human Services projects that kids in America spend seven hours each day watching electronic media. Meanwhile, there is also research demonstrating that small kids who spend too much time using tablets and smartphones can inadvertently damage their brains. This can hamper their ability to, among other things, focus and concentrate.
Banning screen time altogether or taking away mobile devices is obviously not the answer. But what are you to do to help your kids strike a balance? Here are some recommendations.
All in the Family
Before you lay out some rules, it’s best to meet as a family to discuss the situation. This isn’t to get your children’s permission to limit the amount of time they spend in front of the screen — it’s to explain why it’s necessary to take action, what’s expected of them, and how everyone will benefit. While you need to put your foot down as the parent, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get feedback and perhaps even negotiate in areas where some wiggle room is okay. For instance, you might allow for a bit more screen time for older children if they agree to spend more time outdoors doing chores like mowing the grass or more time indoors doing things like reading.
Roll Out the Contract
A technology contract of some kind is important for several reasons. With a contract, you can spell out what’s expected of your kids and detail the consequences of breaking the rules. Once you’ve explained it, get your kids to sign it, and be sure to enforce it consistently. What follows are some tips for things to include in your technology contract for smartphone use:
- Your kids must always get your permission before downloading apps or games onto their mobile devices
- Your kids must silence phones when at the table, in school, or in an environment where their active participation is required
- Your children need to put away their phones when it’s time to do homework
- You children must communicate in constructive ways on the phone — which means respecting other people and treating them the way they themselves want to be treated
- Your kids must access only respectful content on the Internet
- Your children must not talk to or accept friend requests from anyone on the Internet who they don’t know in real life
Again, be sure to spell out what the penalties are if they break the contract. This may include anything from imposing even more screen time caps to taking away their mobile devices for a set time. Also be sure to update the contract as your children age. After all, children in elementary school won’t require as much screen time as children in high school.
When you’ve had the family meeting and gotten your children to sign the contract, your next step is to commit to monitoring. This is for your peace of mind and for your children’s safety. It’s important, however, that you do this transparently. So, let your children know that you will be monitoring their technology use to keep track of their screen time and to keep tabs on their choice of online content. You can bet that they won’t be too happy about this, but their knowledge is likely to ensure that they’re on their best behavior, which is ultimately what you want.
Technology is a good thing, and it can greatly benefit your kids if used responsibly. By following these tips, you can help your children can strike a balance between screens and other things.
Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two.