Parents often wonder:
- How much screen time is too much?
- What's more important - what kids watch or how much they watch?
- Which apps and websites are appropriate for my child?
- What happens if I make the wrong decision?
A recent NPR post "Kids and Screen Time: What does the research say?" summarizes a study by UCLA on the affects of screen time on socio-emotional skills. Researchers found that increased exposure to screen time lead to a reduced ability to read facial expressions and emotions. The latest American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation suggests that entertainment "screen time" should be limited to two hours a day for children ages 3-18. And, for 2-year-olds and younger, none at all.
When enjoying movies or television shows, it is also important to consider not only how much they watch but what is being watched. Content is important - what values are being conveyed? I'd also add the importance of how media is consumed. Parent/child interaction around screen time increases the value. Watching together allows for important conversations and teachable moments inspired by themes and topics contained in programs.
Jennifer Miller, an expert on social and emotional learning, advocates for families to have a media plan. In her blog post "Smart Home Media Use: Limiting screen time," she suggests that families hold a family meeting solely about media use and provides excellent suggestions and talking points for such a meeting:
Sample Family Meeting Agenda from Jennifer Miller
- Define media (the variety of screens that exist in the house) and the fact that you want to focus the discussion on this topic.
- What are some of our best experiences with media? What types and why do we love it? What are some frustrations or challenges with media?
- Share and know the facts. Please see the list below for facts you can share. Be sure you clarify and ask questions about the facts to model that kind of questioning for your children.
- Add your own family’s facts! Do include time constraints – fitting in homework, snack time and dinner after school, soccer practice, free chance to play and also, time to connect as a family. What lost opportunities are there when screen time is unlimited? How do we want to connect as a family each day? Is it at a mealtime? Get clear on where this fits first.
- Now, considering the facts, you might ask the following questions:
A. How do we need to limit screen time in our house?
B. How much time should we allot?
C. When should it be used?
D. Where should it be used?
E. How should it be used?
- Finally each person in the family can give one hope or dream for how media will positively contribute to their lives in the future.
There are a number of resources parents can use when determining if an app, website, TV show, movie, or book is appropriate for their child. Common Sense Media's ratings are a perfect starting point. Using the Common Sense website or by downloading the free Common Sense Kids Media App, parents can read Common Sense Media's rating (which seem to be fairly conservative), ratings by parents, ratings by children, as well as see a quick graph of "What parents need to know" for each title (see sample at left). Additionally, reading the iTunes or Google Play reviews for particular apps is always informative. When looking at app reviews, pay attention to see if the app offers "in app purchases." Common Sense Media, the iTunes Store, and Google Play all specify if in app purchases are available.
For older children, have them do the research before asking for something new. Children in 4th grade and up can be taught to check the Kids Media app, read reviews, decide if it would be a good fit for them - then they can ask you for permission. Another good idea is for you to have children write down their request on a "wish list." Then later, at your convenience, you can take your time, read reviews, and make a decision that best fits your family.
Parents often ask, "What if I Make the Wrong Choice?" Saying, "Yes" does not cement your decision in stone. If you have allowed your child to download an app or to start watching a movie, and something doesn't feel right, it is okay to change your mind. If content or player interaction raises a red flag for you, or if your child's behavior changes or becomes obsessive, reassess your decision. It is okay to say, "I made a mistake," stop allowing the app/website/game, and revisit your decision later. Media use is an ongoing conversation. As children get older, their maturity can and will change...and your decisions may change, too. It is all part of the parenting process.