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Screen Time

Twenty-First Century Parenting

Parenting in the twenty-first century presents challenges never faced by parents of previous generations – namely electronics.  It’s common to see toddlers in strollers playing games with their mom’s smart phone as they are pushed through the mall. In fact, the current generation of kids has come to be known as “touch screen” kids.  Touch screen kids have never known a world without wi-fi, smart phones or streaming video. To them there is nothing remarkable about technology – it’s always been there for them. 

The challenge to parents is to teach their child how to responsibly use these powerful tools while, at the same time, keeping their child safe.

Computers – It’s a rare household that does not have at least one computer or tablet. They give access to all kinds of wonderful interactive learning games, books and websites. However, keeping kids on safe sites is paramount for their safety. Responsible parents can start by keeping all computers and tablets in a central location. Having kids use a computer in a location where you can see what they’re doing is a big deterrent to them straying to internet locations you do not approve of.  Kids under eight should use the computer only with a parent sitting with them and monitoring what they are doing as well as how much screen time they are getting. We all know how easy it is to lose hours online.

 

Video Games – There are two distinct approaches that responsible parents take to video games. Your approach will be determined largely by your child’s personality.  In some families, video games are treated like any other toy. Kids are as free to play video games as they are to play with Legos. The thinking behind this is that by not making video games their own special category of toy, you are not making them more desirable.  If you take this approach remember that, like any new toy, a child is likely to spend a lot of time playing a new game until the novelty wears off.  

The downside to permitting kids to choose when to play video games comes with certain kids. There are children who will sit at a game for hours and hours at the exclusion of everything else – including food and sleep.  If you see this tendency in your child, you may want to institute a stricter approach. Whether your child has trouble self-regulating his video game use or if you simply feel that screen time should be limited; setting up a video game schedule is a valid approach. 
 
You determine how much time is enough. In some families, children must earn game time by doing chores in exchange for tickets to fifteen minutes of game time. The biggest headache for parents who choose this system comes in families with multiple kids. If you give each child 30 minutes of game time and the first child invites a sibling to play a 2-person game during his thirty minutes – has the sibling also used up his computer time? Try to predict these types of downfalls before you put a limited screen time system into place.
Smart Phones – Around late elementary- early middle school, most parents start thinking about getting their child a smart phone. Kids are doing more independent activities and are left on their own for longer periods of time. The phone is necessary. However, parents are right to be concerned as well. Smart phones are powerful little computers. Even if you restrict computer usage at home, once your child has a smart phone, you are giving him internet access pretty much anywhere he goes.
Try these strategies to help keep your child safe.

 
 
 
  • Have your child sign a contract about how he may use is phone.
  • Check your child’s phone often and know all of his passwords.
  • Keep up with the newest trends. Parents need to know what things like Snap Chat are and how they’re being used.
  • Set usage hours. Many responsible parents collect their children’s cells phones at a certain time each night to keep them from staying up all next texting or playing games.
  • When you teach your child to drive, have him get in the habit of putting his phone in the glove compartment first thing.  If you don’t do this, start now to set the right example.

Raising kids in the twenty-first century is a huge responsibility. It’s up to you to keep up with technology and research in order to keep your kids safe.  Trust your instincts regarding screen time and when your child is ready for a smart phone. Every kid is different and there is no magic age. And, most importantly, rather than fear technology, teach your children how to use technology to help them learn and grow while also respecting the negative aspects of it.

What are your opinions on screen time when raising kids? Comment below.
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In Empowerment,

Barb, LMHC, CPC, Ed.M, CAS  

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