Nearly 25 percent of parents struggle to get their kids to disconnect from their devices, according to the latest research from Action for Children. Limiting tech-based activities also tops the list of behaviors parents find most difficult to control in their kids — ranking even higher than eating healthy, going to bed, or doing their homework! However, there is one surprisingly simple thing you can do to help your kids learn to use screen time more wisely. The best part? It’s already something you love to do: Spend time with them.
In an increasingly complex digital world, kids need more parental guidance than ever to understand what they’re seeing and to build good media habits. There’s no other way to do this than to sit down with your children and talk to them.
After the American Academy of Pediatrics released its new, more flexible guidelines for screen time in 2016, Alva Noe, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, sent in this commentary: “As I read the guidelines, then, the real upshot is this: Spend time with your kids, engage them and engage the world with them. If you do, then the fact that you are playing with digital screens or mobile devices won’t get in the way of growth and learning.”
Why Supervision Matters
We often think of supervising screen time in terms of protecting children from the many online dangers that could get them into trouble. And with good reason: According to data shared by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Public Website, 13 percent of youth have received unwanted sexual solicitations online.
But sexual predators are far from the only threat lurking on the internet. According to DoSomething.org, nearly 43 percent of kids have been bullied online and 25 percent have been bullied more than once. Meanwhile, 68 percent of young people believe cyber bullying is a serious problem and 70 percent report having seen frequent bullying themselves.
The takeaway? Supervision is important. But a growing body of evidence is also telling us that raising good digital citizens goes further than that.
Tuning in Together
We now know that there are profound benefits to adopting a proactive approach when it comes to kids’ screen time. Why? Because in addition to the fact that high-quality educational content can directly promote learning, ongoing conversations between parents and kids about digital content— the good, the bad and the ugly— can be leveraged into smarter, safer, healthier media consumption.
So while it may seem to run counter to everything you think you know about screen time, we recommend a different strategy. Rather than asking your kids to step away from their screens, plan to step up instead. In doing so, you can help your child in numerous ways, including everything from maximizing information transfer through social scaffolding to making sense of what they’re experiencing online.
Of course, there are challenges to co-viewing. Kids aren’t always eager to text their friends or watch their favorite Netflix show with Mom and Dad looking over their shoulders. Nor is it realistic to think you can or should be present every time your child looks at a screen.
However, by actively committing to open lines of communication about screen time, you won’t just get a better picture of your child’s media consumption, you’ll also position yourself to be available, accessible, and approachable during their digital journey. When something worrisome does happen, you’ve already set yourself up as the expert, non-judgmental guide who can help.
There’s another benefit to getting way more involved with your kids’ screen time habits: You might learn a few things about them that you were clueless about before.