Ask the Psychologist: Screen Time & KidsQ: We live in a day and age that our kids, from a very young age, have interaction with an electronic device. What are your recommendations on helping families set guidelines for screen time?

A: The best place to start is to look at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines for screen time. They recommend the following:

  • Ages 0-2: Should avoid screens
  • Ages 2-5: Should be limited to 1 hour/day or less
  • Ages 6+: Should be limited to 2 hours/day or less

After looking at the experts’ advice, it’s important for each family to evaluate what’s best for their own children.

Q: Do you have advice on keeping these guidelines in place? It’s hard to stay consistent when it’s easier to pass over the iPhone to occupy the kiddo in certain situations.

A: This is a great question, because setting up guidelines or rules around screen time is one thing, enforcing those rules is another. I have found that utilizing parental monitoring apps can be extremely beneficial. These apps (such as OurPact, Family Time, Qustodio) can be configured to shut off kids’ screens at certain times of day, or after a certain number of minutes/hours. These apps can help eliminate the dreaded arguments that sound like this:

Mom: “Jeremy time to get off the tablet!”

Jeremy: “Just one more minute, I haven’t died yet!”

Mom: “I don’t care, it’s time for dinner!”

Jeremy: “Just one more minute!”

And so on.

These apps, guidelines and rules are great when life is going swimmingly. But it’s also important to give our kids (and ourselves!) some grace from time to time. Buying a few moments of quiet by letting the kids have extra screen time isn’t the end of the world. Particularly when we’re trying to finish our taxes or have the stomach flu.

Q: How can we teach our kids about screen time in a way that they learn to respect a balance between their surroundings and the time spent on their device?

A: The best way to teach kids about anything is to talk about it. A lot. And often. Ask them what they think about what they’re viewing online. What are their thoughts about the advertisements they see on TV? The things their friends are texting, posting or sharing? Really listen to what they say. When the time is right, offer your own ideas. And then ask them more questions.

Another strategy for creating a balance between technology and other aspects of life is instituting a couple of absolutely screen-free zones. The dinner table, the car, the backyard or the park come to mind.

Q: What if you’re a family that’s already in too deep with screen time habits that aren’t so great? How do you start over?

A: Again, start by talking about it with your kids. Even if they’re young, you can use age-appropriate language to talk about your concerns. Something like: “Hey guys, I feel like we’ve all been spending too much time on our screens and I’m worried about it.” Once you’ve let them know it’s on your mind, gather the adults in the home and come up with a plan for setting some guidelines for screen use.

Once you’ve come up with a solid plan, go back to your kids and let them know when and how it’s going to be implemented. No one likes to be blind-sided by change, even the littlest kids. Once you’ve made the changes, you should expect some acting out, struggles and push-back. But don’t give up! It will get easier over time and everyone will get used to the new routine.

Q: What happens when we are preaching about screen time and setting boundaries, but never put our own devices down? How do we check ourselves to make sure we are setting a good example for our families?

A: A good place to start is by getting honest about our own screen time. Most of us aren’t so good at accurately estimating the time we spend on our tablets, phones and computers; so consider installing a monitoring app of your own (for example, Checky) to get real about how much you’re on your screen.

After you know what you’re working with, try setting some do-able, goals for decreasing use. Perhaps put yourself on the same schedule as your kids!

Q: Are there long-term effects that could result from too much screen time? Some people feel like screen are everywhere so why even try to limit it when it’s the wave of the future?

A: I’m sure there are long-term effects from too much screen time, but we don’t know what they are yet! We do know that the more we’re on screens, the less we’re doing other things we know are healthy like:

  • Socializing face to face with friends
  • Riding bikes
  • Cooking with our families
  • Swimming
  • Playing board games
  • Gardening