By Adrian Johansen
Screens have become a common aspect of our digitally-enhanced world. They’re everywhere — cell phones, computers, and even an increasing number of household appliances. There are, of course, upsides and downsides to how they fit into your children’s lives.
You know too much screen time can be linked to detrimental effects on children’s wellbeing, particularly surrounding obesity and sleep quality. But, at the same time, limiting their access too much can inhibit their skills in an increasingly digital world.
The key is finding a good balance between time in front of devices and experiencing the world away from them.
1) Understand the Value
To make the best decisions about balancing screen time, it’s helpful to understand how devices represent value. Don’t limit yourself to the education needs — though this is certainly a point for consideration. Look at where screens can be utilized as creatively enriching tools. Review the types of digital tools to assist in enhancing your child’s empathy and the social activities relevant to the world they live in.
Depending on your child’s age, it may be appropriate to get their input on the issue. Talk to them about what they like about the activities they perform on devices. Seek to understand what engages them and what they get out of it. This can help you to better direct the choices you make on choosing activities that enrich your child, spark their imagination, and hold their attention.
2) Consider Enriching Activities
Achieving screen time balance isn’t simply about setting equal times they spend on and off their devices. Rather, it’s about focusing on maintaining good quality screen time and encouraging them to choose time away. This approach makes certain pure entertainment actions are augmented by enriching content.
Video games are a prime area of focus here. As a popular digital activity, it’s important not to discourage use but explore how it can be beneficial. Remember, the video game industry has changed significantly over the last couple of decades and continues to develop in interesting directions. This allows you to be more selective about choosing games that help to build their cognitive and problem-solving skills. Indeed, there is growing accessibility of tools to allow children to design their own games, providing a more creative experience.
With this last in mind, it can be wise to show your children how they can bridge their off-screen and on-screen time with projects. Help them to see how video game design can benefit from some off-screen planning, story writing, and getting artistic reference from the natural world. If they’re interested in YouTube or streaming, encourage them to make their own short films and videos in the outside world. Though they may not be of an age to post these on social platforms, you are getting them actively involved in media rather than simply consuming it.
3) Prioritize their Wellbeing
Establishing a screen time balance through the strategic use of activities and behavior is a good start. But it’s important to remember the reason to establish a limit is to safeguard your child’s health and general wellbeing. Therefore, while you’re working to enrich their lives, you must also prioritize tools to keep your child well and happy.
Part of this is certainly about staying vigilant regarding any negative symptoms your child may be displaying. Though you might feel your approach to their screen time is balanced, every child is different in their tolerances and reactions. Keep a close eye on whether they appear to be overtired or have disrupted sleep patterns. Make a habit of talking to them about their mental health and the relationships they experience through their devices. Be cognizant of the symptoms of eye strain. If you find there are problems, it may be time to reassess your screen time allowances.
Beyond their immediate health, it’s vital to ensure their safety while online. If your child uses a mobile device, you’ll find many of the popular apps will have parental control options. Most will have clear and dedicated safety centers to provide you with privacy information and help you restrict access. However, it is just as important to maintain an open dialogue with your child about safe online behavior. Talk to them about the dangers present and the best practices they should implement. Above all else, encourage them to talk to you about anything they’re uncertain of in their digital interactions.
4) Be Consistent But Reasonable
As with so many aspects of parenting, sustaining a healthy screen time balance for your child can rely on consistency. Based on some of the prior considerations we’ve covered, create a relatively solid structure regarding their screen use and stick to it. This helps to set expectations for use and gets your child used to healthy habits surrounding their relationship to devices.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exhibit a certain amount of flexibility, though. Arbitrary rules without room for discussion aren’t positive for your child or you as a parent. So, if your child wants to go beyond these boundaries, make it a discussion rather than a straight refusal. The extent to which you can do this may depend on their age. But aim to base these around how it will affect the balance and collaborate on finding acceptable solutions.
You obviously don’t want them to be occupied all day by a device alone, but there is still room within a consistent structure to make exceptions. This may be something that occurs occasionally, or there may be cause to make this a permanent alteration to the routine.
An overabundance of screen time isn't healthy for your child. At the same time, it’s important to recognize the important role devices play in the world we live in. Finding a screen time balance will involve considerations about what value they hold and how to adjust activities to emphasize the positive outcomes. Your first consideration must always be toward keeping them safe and well, though. With some planning and consistent application, you can ensure your child develops a healthy relationship with digital tools.
Adrian Johansen writes to both teach and learn. She draws from her experiences to offer others insight and points to consider. You can find more of her writing on Twitter.