6 Tips to Manage Screen Time

Get practical guidance on how to keep your child's consumption of digital media under control.
By Michael Rhattigan
Mar 25, 2016



6 Tips to Manage Screen Time

Mar 25, 2016

TVs, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and computers are everywhere now. And, if you’re like me, you have mixed feelings about children’s use of all this media. On the one hand, you recognize the excitement and potential of screen time in providing learning and great entertainment, but on the other hand, you have concerns over knowing how much exposure is too much.

Here are six suggestions to help manage your kids’ screen time:

  1. Prevent Excessive Use. Schools have rolled out tablets and laptops to teach with clear-cut gains: they vastly improve the volume of information that is shared (and carried home), and they allow for customized lessons, tracking of individual progress, and the ability to actively engage kids in learning.
    But at home, these advantages aren’t as obvious, especially when you throw TV into the mix. How much exposure is too much for our children? Research and opinions vary, but it’s important to remember we can set an “off” switch. Deciding what’s right for your children will be unique to your family, but make it an active decision together. Like any other activity, set guidelines and try to stick by them.
  2. Monitor Content. Of course, we don’t want young children watching inappropriate content or gruesome violence – but it’s not always that easy in practice. Cartoons seemed harmless when we were growing up, but now popular, prime time, animated TV shows have very adult themes.
    That said, don’t assume you’re safe limiting your children to popular kids-only TV networks. I’ve witnessed my own son suddenly begin punching other kids or trying to “high kick” his younger brother. When asked where he learned his new moves, he mentioned two different shows that are new hits from these very places, explaining that he needs to “smash the bad guys” like they do. And let’s not forget about the Internet, where many upset parents have left their children watching an innocent nursery rhyme video only to find them, moments later, being served recommendations for adult versions of the same nursery rhymes!
    A great way to avoid any of these pitfalls is watching shows with your kids! This will not only help you understand the show’s themes (and appropriateness), it’ll allow you to have fun spending time with your kids while being entertained! You’ll also get good input for point #4 below.
  3. Consider Program Lengths: Shorter Doesn’t Mean Better. Shorter content can be produced more quickly and less expensively, which seems like an acceptable trade-off for shorter screen time. But is it? Many parents have legitimate concerns that watching content shorter than the more traditional half-hour to hour show, is hurting our children’s concentration, particularly as rises in ADD continue. The truth is, research doesn’t yet exist to support these concerns, so while it’s still too early to draw concrete conclusions, it’s still something to consider.
  4. Seek Programming that Actively Engages Kids. This can include interactive shows; ones that cover age-appropriate real-life problems faced by kids, like sharing, bullying or underage drinking; and shows that actually get them up and moving.
  5. Use Kids’ Media Favorites as Play Inspiration. Creating narratives from or related to your kids’ favorite shows and movies can be a great way to engage them in fun play. In our family, I’m often an animal or character from a popular show as I roam around the house encouraging my son to invent stories for his brother and me (Mom frequently participates too, though she often busies herself with recording our fun on camera).
  6. Pay Attention to Location. Just because media can be consumed almost anywhere now, doesn't mean that it has to be done everywhere. Try not to run TV as background noise during dinner, which can both distract from and reduce interest in conversation, or when your kids are playing, which could pull them out of it altogether. Similarly, avoid televisions and limit device use in your kids’ bedrooms, which can make them more susceptible to sleep deprivation, and increase their reliance on both for entertainment in general.

I am keenly interested in the positive roles children's media plays in their academic learning, social and emotional development, and health & wellness. I would love to hear your ideas. What have you found that works with your kids? Please share them with us on Scholastic Parents Facebook Page.

Featured photo credit: alvarez/iStockphoto

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