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Tips to Manage Technology with Youth
By Naomi Brower, Extension Professor & Elizabeth Davis, Extension Associate Professor
Children are spending more time with screen media than ever before, and at younger ages. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the average child ages 8-12 spends 4-6 hours watching or using screens (2020). Teens spend up to 9 hours, and research also suggests that they spend an average of about one hour daily on social media.
While there is no direct causation between the amount of screen time and negative outcomes, research highlights some correlations. Excessive screen time may lead to challenges such as not enough outdoor or physical activity, less interaction with family or friends, sleep challenges and increased mood problems (depression, anxiety, etc.). In addition, youth may be exposed to developmentally inappropriate content, cyberbullies and predators, and other concerning content.
Despite this, it is also important to recognize that not all screen time is bad. In fact, there are many benefits and opportunities of media use. For example, use of media can help youth to stay connected with friends or family, promote social support and inclusion, and provide educational opportunities.
Parents play a critical role in helping their children effectively navigate an increasingly digital world. Consider the following tips and how they may apply to your family situation.
- Set limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization encourages families to ensure plenty of time for active, rather than sedentary activities and for interacting with others. While there really isn’t a magic number for how much screen use is appropriate for each child, it is important that it is high quality, age appropriate, and there is parental engagement in what is being viewed.
- Select high quality media. While not all media needs to be “educational,” you can maximize screen time by helping youth to find media that helps them think critically, develop their creativity through creating new content (i.e. songs, art, etc.) or helps them connect with the larger world in related offline activities.
- Screen time shouldn’t always be alone time. Watching and playing together can help to increase social interactions, learning, and bonding.
- Create boundaries and tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes and other social and family gatherings screen-free to build social bonds and engage in two-way conversation. Because electronics can be a potential distraction after bedtime and interfere with sleep, consider keeping screens out of the bedroom areas. You may want to use an inaccessible place to charge electronics at night, or download apps that disable the device at bedtime to remove temptation from using screens at night.
- Strive to be good digital citizens. Discuss expectations of how to act responsibly online and what to do if they see inappropriate content.
- Warn children about the importance of privacy and dangers of predators. Youth need to know that once content is electronically shared they will not be able to remove or delete it completely. Teach youth about privacy settings and be sure to monitor their activity to keep them safe.
- Establish consequences for problematic behavior. If your child is having a hard time putting a phone away when you ask, watching inappropriate content, or engaging in other inappropriate media-related behavior, consider instituting temporary time or location limits.
- Model the manners and behavior you want to see. Avoid texting in the car. Model good digital citizenship in your interactions with others online. Limit your own media use.
- Create a family media plan. Having agreed upon expectations can help you to establish healthy boundaries with technology in your home. Create a family media plan that promotes open family discussion and consistent rules about media use. As part of this plan, you can set individual or family rules, including topics such as balancing screen time/online time and other activities, boundaries regarding content, and disclosing personal information. Having these conversations encourages age-appropriate critical thinking and digital literacy. For more information on creating a family media plan see www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.
Media and digital devices are an integrated part of our society today. They can be a wonderful resource in a variety of ways, but they can never replace the benefits of face-to-face interactions and learning. By utilizing the tips provided in this article, you can help youth reap the benefit of digital resources while keeping the benefits of personal interactions and learning at the forefront of youth experiences.
ReferencesAmerican Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (February 2020). Screen time and children. No. 54. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-And-Watching-TV-054.aspx
Common Sense Media (n.d.) Cellphone parenting: How can I get my kids to put down their phones? https://www.commonsensemedia.org/cellphone-parenting/how-can-i-get-my-kids-to-put-down-their-phones