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When Should You be Worried about Your Child’s Screen Time?

By Pam Dewey • kids and screen time, children screen time, screen time for kids, technology and kids, kids and screens, screen time rules, setting boundaries for kids, screen time boundaries, talking about screen time with kids, teaching kids about social media, social media rules, video games and kids, video games and children, monitoring kids screen time, monitoring childrens screen time • August 11, 2022

Most parents of young children are familiar with games like Roblox, Minecraft and Among Us. Your kids may have favorite YouTubers. Then there are their favorite TV shows and movies.

The truth is, we’re all surrounded by screens and content. There are so many things to watch and consume. You may be worried that your kid spends too much time on their phone or in front of their computer or TV. But kids also use tablets and computers for school, and being skilled with technology can translate into job skills later on.

It’s hard to know where to draw the line and how much screen time is too much. You certainly aren’t alone in worrying about your child’s relationship with screens.  Here is what you need to know about your child’s screen time and how to manage it.

Young children have a particularly difficult time disengaging

Taking a screen away from a young child often results in a tantrum. And there’s a good reason for that. The New York Times quotes Rebecca Rialon Berry, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry, states, “The intense sounds, colors and rapid movement of digital content can make it much more immersive and entrancing than the real world — and therefore much more difficult to disengage from. Interactivity — touching a screen and making something happen — is particularly riveting for young children.” Since young children find screens so engaging, they can experience withdrawal when their connection is disrupted. This is an unpleasant feeling for children, and since they’re still learning about their emotions, they don’t know how to navigate these feelings. So a tantrum is how they may express their displeasure.

But screens aren’t always bad

As a parent, you know there are also benefits to screen time. Screens can be used to unwind and relax, learn more about a subject (think YouTube and home repairs), find a recipe, give you (parents) a break and on and on. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “When media is used thoughtfully & appropriately, media can enhance daily life.” In other words, pediatricians believe that spending time online or watching a screen can be beneficial to children.

Technology addiction isn’t that common

The Greater Good Magazine references a study that surveyed nearly 4,000 adolescents (13-18 years) and their parents about their digital media use. The magazine stated, “One group, the majority (63%), were just fine. Their relationship with technology did not seem to impact their lives.” That is good news for parents. It means that screen addiction may not be as common as you feared.

Rules about online content are important

It appears rules about content are more important than rules about time. The Greater Good Magazine states, “This [healthy] group reported that they had strict rules about the kinds of content they accessed rather than strict rules about how much time they were allowed to spend on screens.” The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests families create a personalized media use plan, which “will help you to think about media & create goals & rules that are in line with your family’s values.” This creates rules about what your children are allowed to watch, and you can teach them the importance of engaging with media in a healthy way.

Talk about what they’re consuming

Talk to your children regularly about the games they’re playing or the videos they’re watching. This helps prevent them from engaging with harmful things. It also allows you to talk about media consumption. Help your child learn to think critically about content. The Greater Good Magazine suggests “talking to them about why you said yes to one piece of media and no to another, so they can start to internalize your values.”

Parents should monitor their use

You can also teach your children to form healthy habits for technology by modeling this behavior. When you talk to your children, make sure you put your phone down and give them your undivided attention. This shows kids it’s important to talk to people face to face and demonstrates that you value your conversations with them. Parents who spend less time on their phones also encourage their children to engage in a healthier relationship with technology.

Reward them with fun activities

Since children may have difficulty pulling themselves away from screens, you can encourage this behavior by planning fun activities. The New York Times also suggests “making a plan with your children to do something fun when screen time is over, like having a snack or going to the park.” By giving children something to look forward to, they will find it easier to disengage from screens. It makes this behavior feel like a reward, rather than a punishment.

So how do you know when screen time is a problem?

The Academy of American Pediatrics states, “But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime & sleep.” Screen time becomes an issue when it interferes with your child’s sleep schedule, or they’re skipping meals (or won’t put it away during meals). It’s also an issue if your child no longer spends time with their friends or isn’t getting enough exercise to stay healthy.

If you think your child may be spending too much time with screens, you can reach out to your family doctor to discuss options. You may also try creating a family media plan to better monitor and control your child’s use of technology. Some children may also benefit from talking to a mental health professional.