First Things First: Your ultimate guide to screen time for yourself, your kids

Mockup image of a hand holding white mobile phone with blank black desktop screen with blur background iphone tile phone cellphone cell phone / Getty Images
Mockup image of a hand holding white mobile phone with blank black desktop screen with blur background iphone tile phone cellphone cell phone / Getty Images

Have you paused lately to look around at our technological world? From smart home devices to self-driving cars, it's a lot to take in. And then, we have to navigate how our children engage with all this technology. It's overwhelming to hear all the different voices, from professionals to friends, telling us how our kids should use technology. Our kids are growing up in a world where digital identities are just as real as physical ones. And it's not like there's a well-laid-out manual for helping your child navigate an ever-changing technological world.

You may be wondering, "What in the world do I do here?"

We can ask a different question, though. It's this: "How can my family use technology without allowing technology to use us?"

As you make your plan, consider your personal situation. Based on American Academy of Pediatrics research, these general guidelines can help you navigate technology use in your home.

SCREEN TIME: GOOD AND BAD

Screen time isn't wrong in and of itself. It's all about how you use it. There are many benefits to co-viewing with younger children and using technology to promote learning and conversation.

Too much screen time can be linked to:

- Obesity.

- Irregular sleep.

- Behavioral problems.

- Lower academic performance.

- Violence.

Benefits of screen time:

- Exposure to new ideas and information.

- Connection to family and friends who are geographically distant.

- Co-viewing and co-playing with your child can promote healthy development.

- Digital tools can promote school readiness or enhance learning.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

These are the recommended screen time limits per the American Academy of Pediatrics:

- Birth to 18 months: No screens, except for video chats with family and friends.

- 18 months to 2 years: Limit screen time, and view with your child. Introduce high-quality educational programming.

- 2-5 years: Limit screen time to an hour a day (outside of academics), and watch together, if possible.

- 6-12 years: Place consistent limits on screen time as determined by the family. Ensure that screen time doesn't impact your child's sleep, exercise or behavior.

SETTING LIMITS

- Be conscious of your screen usage. The first tip is to look in the mirror. Kids learn from what they see. You may need screen time limits as much as they do.

- Create a family media use plan. Creating a plan as a family is powerful. Of course, you, as the parent, have to determine how much screen time your child has. But there is power in allowing them to craft how that looks and what other activities they can be involved in to ensure they exercise their physical and creative skills.

- Utilize screen time limits on devices. Most devices have parental controls for screen time usage. Use all the tools at your disposal.

- Balance screen time with quality personal time. Children need parental or caretaker engagement to develop emotionally and socially. Ensure that you're balancing their screen time with your presence.

- Avoid screens at mealtime. Meals are a fantastic way to connect as a family. Focus the time on discussing what everyone's day was like or asking questions to spur conversation.

- Avoid screens in the bedroom. A child's bedroom is a great place to play and rest. At a young age, avoid allowing them to take screens into their room as much as possible.

- Turn off all screens during family outings. Screens can be distracting when the family is engaging in activities together. Turn off screens for all family members (parents included).

- Unplug from screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Our brains need time to decompress and rest. Spend this time reading together to prepare everyone for a restful night.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU

Your child is going to use screens. It's how they connect with the world. Do your best to help them use those screens in a healthy way. Sure, you may bend or break the rules at times. You may need to give in to more screen time because you need a break or have to get something done. That's OK. Your child will continue to develop and grow. What they need more than strict tech rules is an involved parent. Make sure they are getting outdoors and playing and creating. If you haven't navigated screens well up to this point, that's OK. There's no better time to start than the present.

Mitchell Qualls is vice president of operations at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at mitchell@firstthings.org.

photo Mitchell Qualls

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