Is There a Right Amount of Screen Time for Kids?
Determining the right number of hours for a child to use a digital screen is tough. Parents often ask me, “What’s the right amount of screen time for my child?” I admit that it would be so much easier to parent in the digital age if there was an age and hours chart that I could just point to and say, “This is what the experts say! There’s no arguing!” But, we all know that it’s not that easy. In fact, it’s quite complicated.
In my own home, we have the added complexity of raising a child with Down Syndrome named Grant, who all day at school, uses the LAMP Words for Life App. It’s through this personal iPad mini with this one app (locked in with Guided Access) that Grant is learning how to construct sentences, and in the midst of situations where he doesn’t have the words, he uses the iPad to express himself.
Does this educational interaction with digital screens count toward some mythical screen time limit? What if I told you Grant could watch movies for 10-hours straight if we let him because of a compulsion to watch certain movies? How in the world does this young man begin to understand the difference between good and bad screen time? So, I’m right there with you! Struggling in a world where the ease of a screen makes for a tempting default response in a busy house like ours.
Even Adults Need Help Managing Their Devices!
At their recent developer’s conference, Google announced a new feature for YouTube that can be set to remind you at certain increments to put the app down. Recent dives into Instagram’s yet-to-be-released code updates have uncovered similar functionality for the popular social media platform, with charts showing users daily time usage. There’s a cruel irony in having the very technology we created give us reminders to not use the technology.
Tips for Managing Your Kids’ Screen Time
These tips below were originally shared in a post I wrote at Protect Young Eyes titled, “Screen Time and Kids: 5 Recommendations for Parents and Educators.”
Whether your child is 2 or 12, we believe these principles apply based on what we’re learning from the neuroscience and addiction recovery communities:
1. Less is more when it comes to infant screen time. We don’t know exact answers, but everything is pointing toward keeping screens away from our little ones. A May 2017 study found that 18-month-olds who did not use screens had significantly better language skills than those who used screens.
SANITY CHECK: Hey, stay-at-home-parent, if you need to shove a screen in your kid’s hands just so you can take a shower, we get it. We do it too. Our son Grant has Down Syndrome, and ZERO attention span. Sometimes a screen, in limited doses, is the only way for Andrea to get anything done. No judgment here, but this is the exception and not the norm.
2. Make them go outside and play. A kid who has healthy human connections and healthy hobbies and outlets is less likely to fall into addiction in general. Nothing beats going outside and soaking up the green. We were created in nature and it seems that we learn best in nature. Green spaces. Bugs. Mud. Sunshine on the skin. According to Tim Drake, founder of Primitive Pursuits, a nonprofit nature-based program in New York, “Nature is where we come from. It brought us to where we are today. The reason we’re successful as a species is because of our original relationship with nature. Exposing a child to that touches the hard-wiring of being human—they become ‘activated’” [Glow Kids, page 241].
3. Let them cry it out. When our kids cry or whine in public, and we hand them a screen to quiet them, we are promoting a quick fix mentality to treating their uncomfortable feelings. A flashing screen teaches the still-developing neurology of a 4-year-old that the dopamine rush from mom’s iPhone is the antidote when I’m upset. Screen time becomes the learned solution.
Showing our children how to find other ways to alleviate these emotions will possibly save them in the long run from using unhealthy, quick-fix remedies in emotionally charged situations. Even if you’re the mom with the screaming kid in aisle 10, find another way.
4. Let them see you doing the same. Parents, you need to model the behaviors you want to see in your child. Are you curious to know the amount of time you spend on your device? There’s an app for that!
Bonus Tip for Managing Screen Time for Kids:
Let’s go back to the question I posed at the beginning: What’s the right amount of digital screen time to give your kid? In our home, we answer the question this way. I have two young boys who love Mario Kart and Skylanders. They would play both all day if I let them. When I tell them that it’s time to quit, they know that if they get angry, then there will be a penalty. Here’s our stance:
If it makes you mad when I take it away, then the game will disappear for at least a day.
In other words, I know they’re playing too much if the game elicits undue emotion inside of them. I watch their reactions closely. I invite you to study your kids. Each one is going to be wired a little differently. Manage screen time for your kids accordingly.
Is Your Family Ready for a Digital Detox?
Don’t let summertime turn into screen-time. Covenant Eyes has developed a 7-day Digital Detox made for families just like yours. It’s packed with practical steps parents can take to reclaim life from the screens that so easily consume precious minutes on sunny days.
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