Finding Balance with Children and Electronic Devices
“Our baby won’t need any screen time at all. We’ll just be emotionally and physically present with her every moment,” I said, probably smiling serenely (and smugly) as a first-time mom-to-be.
Like many parents, my husband and I were in for a surprise. Ours was a classic first-time parent promise that didn’t pan out. Our daughter wanted to go on the computers at the library and hear the songs she loved so much back at home; we wanted a bit of a break in a noisy restaurant.
We weren’t alone in our decision to allow our daughter some screen time. Children under eight spend an average of over two hours a day on electronic media.
But with concerns about screen time and safety, what’s a parent to do when their child inevitably expresses interest in screens? Read on to learn about some expert recommendations around children’s device safety and use.
When Should You Give Your Child their Own Electronic Devices?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that toddlers and babies under 18 months old don’t get any screen time at all, except for video calls to interact with grandparents and other family members. Preschoolers, they recommend, should have no more than an hour of screen time per day.
After that, though, there’s no single magic age when it’s okay or not okay for kids to have access to a tablet. The AAP suggests that electronic media is okay for grade schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers to use as long as it doesn’t affect social activities, learning, sleep, or physical activity and weight. When deciding whether it’s time for them to get their own mobile device, consider how they typically interact with media — does it isolate them? Do they always choose media over other activities? Does it enrich their understanding of the world? In all things, you should consider not only your child’s age, but their maturity and disposition. What one child needs may differ from another at the same age.
Do TVs Belong in the Bedroom?
Many experts advise against allowing kids to have TVs in their bedrooms until middle school or later. Kids with TVs in their own bedrooms can experience problems with sleep and even grades. Instead, with younger children, co-watch educational programs with them and discuss what you’ve viewed. Similarly,
Even for teens, keep family mealtime sacred, with no phones or tablets at dinner. The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends setting solid boundaries around how much TV your kids can watch and how many hours per day they can spend on tablets or cell phones.
Have the Right Tools
Once you’ve made the move to give your kids more electronic freedom, it’s a good idea to keep their transition from screen-free to screen time safe. Monitoring the extent of your child’s screen time, as well as what sites they can visit and apps they can use, can stop them from becoming overly absorbed in the online world and protect them from predators. This isn’t about controlling or doting on your child as much as it is about providing some experienced guidance as they navigate the (sometimes) wild west of the internet.
There are a number of tools you can use to keep your kids safe online:
- The MamaBear mobile app, for example, allows you to monitor your kids’ social media use for inappropriate content and bullying.
- Frontier’s Multi-Device Security option allows you to set parental controls, include time limits and content filters.
- The DinnerTime Plus app focuses mainly on time management, giving your child suggestions about when to take breaks from the screen and reminding them about dinnertime, study time, and bedtime.
While privacy tools can be helpful, be careful not to build an environment of distrust around your child’s use of electronic devices. Be vigilant and attentive, not paranoid, and discuss dangers openly in an age-appropriate way. This will be a learning process for both of you.
Making It Work for You
When it comes to children and technology, having a frank discussion with your children about device use is the first step. Explain to your child, using age-appropriate language, why you’re making a certain decision about their media use. It might not be what they want to hear, but it will build trust over time.
And, of course, balance is always necessary. One Saturday playing video games or kicking back with some music most of the day? Probably fine. But if it becomes a habit, or if your child isn’t participating in family life or other activities, it’s probably time to set some healthy boundaries.
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