The digital age is upon us. As children move up in school, it becomes harder to control what our children have access to. At some point, as a parent, you’ll likely want to develop a plan for media usage. You might find that “no limits” work just fine for your kiddo. Other families may need to limit exposure. For most families, finding the balance between media and other important activities takes time, experimentation, and patience. Here are some things to consider while navigating the digital realm with your family:
Think about your own childhood: Many families had one TV—maybe 2—and you were forced to watch what was on network or cable television. Movies, you had to hand-select from a video store or watch the same movie over and over again. Video games, for many, were a luxury and, again, limited to what you had on hand or could rent. There were no mobile devices with video streaming, unlimited games, social media sharing…the dark ages!
Now, take inventory of your own home. Ninety-eight percent of households with children 8 and under have access to a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone. It’s changed indeed!
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to develop personalized media use plans for their children. Media plans should take into account each child’s age, health, personality, and developmental stage. The AAP has a tool you can use to create a personalized media plan for your family: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx.
Another tool you could use is the a “5 W’s” approach – Who? What? When? Where? And Why?
WHO: Your decision about screen time may come down to your child’s age or personality. Some children have an easier time balancing screen time with their other activities. For others, it can potentially heighten undesirable behavior. Also, if your child is having a hard time with social interactions or learning to read social cues, it might be a good idea to limit their screen exposure and spend more time working on those skills with friends and family. Remember that children learn through relationships with the people around them. Try to set aside time for interacting with others.
WHAT: As part of your media plan, you’ll want to decide what types of media your child can have access to. Do they have access to the family computer? TV? Netflix? YouTube? None of the above?
A carefully selected list of apps and video games can go a long way in helping you feel comfortable about your child’s media usage. If your child comes home from school, raving about a game that everyone is talking about, take the time to learn about it and then decide whether it’s age and developmentally appropriate; perhaps even consider what your child has to gain from it.
Common Sense Media has a helpful list of educational apps for kids ages 5-8.
- GoNoodle Kids: Videos that encourage kids to get moving.
- Handwriting Without Tears: Based on the popular and time-tested writing system, this app helps kids learn to write their letters and numbers.
- Crazy Gears: A STEM-based app that lets kids freely create, problem solve, and explore physics.
WHEN AND WHERE: If you’re looking to keep screen time to a minimum or just want to monitor it more carefully, you may want to choose the time of day and for how long your child can watch. An example could be 1 hour of screen time after school and an additional 2 hours on the weekend after chores are completed. A best practice is to make sure screen time happens in a family area, such as the living room, where you can keep tabs on how they are using their time and review content if you’re concerned.
WHY: There’s no denying that technology is going to be a part of our children’s future. That being said, not all media is created equal. Many tech experts emphasize quality over quantity.
When selecting educational apps, there are some easy-to-follow guidelines:
- The app is distraction-free, including no advertisements.
- The app has clearly defined learning objectives.
- The app is interactive and offers feedback.
One approach to media usage is to think of it like any other hobby. If your child wanted to practice dance all day, you would likely step in and make sure she was spending a healthy amount of time doing other activities. When considering your media plan, make sure your child is making time for reading, exercise, spending time in nature, interacting with others, etc. If you’re finding that media is interfering, renegotiate until you get the balance right for you and your child.
Your child will inherit a different world than your childhood. With time and practice, you’ll be able to determine the appropriate who, what, when, where, and why concerning media usage for your family.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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