Kids & Technology: Top Parenting Tips
You don’t have to look far for stories about the dangers of excessive screen time. Obesity and depression are too common in young people, and with advances in technology, cell phone use continues to rise. Parents can feel like they’ve lost control over their child’s screen time, but with the addition of the following boundaries and guidelines, screen time limits can be effective.
Infants to Toddlers
New parents deserve a much-needed break now and then, but using a screen as a babysitter is damaging to children at this important developmental stage. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatric Association both released technology guidelines for young children in 2016 that focused on the importance of increasing activity in infants, babies, and toddlers.
While it’s better to focus on face-to-face interactions, children at this age enjoy musical programs. As children reach different stages of their development, parents can take the time to work with their child on tummy time, crawling, standing, and the beginning stages of walking while watching and listening to active programs that engage the child.
Parents can also take this time to watch programs with their children and explain what’s happening and how their children can relate what they see to real life.
As children get older, parents need to see what works for their child when it comes to technology. There is no perfect solution for all children. Quality screen time is what’s important at this age. Previewing what they watch can give parents greater power to choose programs that benefit their child. The Mayo Clinic has the following suggestions for young school-age children:
- Seek interactive options that engage children
- Use parental controls
- Make sure your child is close and you can see what they’re watching
- Ask what programs they’ve viewed and apps they used that day
- Take the opportunity to talk about what your child’s watching. Explain commercials and advertising
Even with parental controls, parents can lose track of what their child sees when they’re with their friends. It’s important for parents to prepare for situations like these when possible. Talk to your child about what they could see online and how they should react when these situations come up.
Tweens and Teenagers
It’s common for teenagers to sit for hours in front of a screen. With the addition of kids using cell phones and computers, their entire life can become a screen. Parents may feel like it’s impossible, but with a few small changes, screen time can be limited.
Model Healthy Behaviors
‘Do what I say, not what I do’ isn’t going to work here. Parents who spend excessive time on their phones or in front of another screen can only expect their teens to adopt the same actions. Before creating rules for your child’s screen time, parents will have to address the time they spend in front of a screen.
How often have you seen your child sitting in front of the TV while typing on their phone? How often do you do the same yourself? Studies have proven that productivity diminishes when not fully focusing on one project at a time. Parents need to discuss this with their teenagers and discourage them from spending time in front of more than one screen at once.
Encourage physical activity
Teenagers have opportunities for physical activity with public schools, but simply going for a walk or doing yard work can keep your child healthy. Try to include physical activities in family outings, and encourage opportunities for physical activity whenever possible.
Educate your child about media
Advertisements and commercials are a tool of corporations. Children do not automatically know this and are often fooled to think they need a product. Parents should talk to their children regularly about the media they’re seeing and how it’s used to manipulate them.
No electronics during mealtimes
Family mealtimes can be the perfect opportunity to bond with your child, but with the interruption of a cell phone or TV in the background, that bonding time is weak. Take this time to have everyone put down their phones and turn off the TV.
Allow your teen to have input in family screen time rules
Take the time to meet and solve the problem of too much screen time together. Your teenager may surprise you and have already noticed the defects of screen time on their health. Let them take an active role in this discussion when possible, and their willingness to change may improve.
Children and technology can be a tricky combination, and parents can feel overwhelmed when thinking of ways to control how much screen time their children get. Visit our parental blog to learn more about screen time limits and guidelines, along with ideas for other ways families can spend time together away from a screen.
Susan J. Wood, Director of Mental Health
Susan J. Wood, LMFT is the Director of Mental Health at Children’s Bureau and has over 20 years of experience working with children in a community mental health setting. She joined Children’s Bureau in 2015 as a Program Manager in the Antelope Valley and became the program director in June 2018 where she was instrumental in opening and expanding mental health services to the Santa Clarita Valley and Long Beach.