The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released new screen time guidelines for kids. And what are the doctors prescribing? Families are better off doing away with hard-and-fast restrictions on screen time and instead embracing a more realistic, balanced approach. One critical component serves as the anchor in this more flexible philosophy: Parents need to take an active role. Specifically, the AAP recommends that families with children over the age of five develop their own “Family Media Use Plans.” Wondering where to begin when it comes to creating yours? Read on for some tips.
1. Talk the Talk
Establishing a useful Family Media Use Plan all starts with open lines of communication.
“Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep,” says AAP policy recommendations lead author Jenny Radesky.
For starters, talk with your children about the reasons why screen time guidelines are important. By sharing data about excessive media consumption being linked to obesity, sleep problems, attention deficiency, and more, you reinforce that it’s not about wanting to take something away from them, but instead about helping them to lead happier, healthier lives — both as individuals and as part of the family. In doing so, you reframe the conversation from an “us-versus-them” scenario to a partnership.
In addition to explaining to your kids why too much screen time can lead to detrimental effects, discussing specific screen time-related hazards can help children proactively navigate the challenges of growing up in the digital age. Remind them that their online actions have consequences, and that every time they go on the internet, send a text, or post on social media, they risk leaving behind a “digital footprint.” One rule of thumb for good digital citizens? If you wouldn’t do it or say it in person, then you shouldn’t do it or say it online.
2. Laying Down the Law
Some rules, however, are non-negotiable. For example, experts recommend keeping screens out of kids’ rooms and implementing a “media curfew” at bedtime and during meals. Keeping the computer in a central part of your home, such as the kitchen or living room, can help you stay apprised — not only of how much they’re watching, but also of whether that content is part of a “healthy media diet.”
Speaking of a “healthy media diet,” you don’t let your children binge on “empty” calories when dining, so why wouldn’t you exercise the same caution when evaluating the type of content they’re “feeding” on? Not all media is bad. In fact, a great deal of it can be educational, and can help kids learn both hard and soft skills. When talking with your children, make sure they know the difference between high-value and no-value content. Also, be clear that certain content is unacceptable under any circumstances. The good news? You don’t have to be the bad guy. That’s what ratings systems are for!
3. Walk the Walk
One last thing to keep in mind? We’ve all heard the common parenting pitfall, “Do as I say, not as I do.” This mindset carries over to media use. The AAP suggests that parents shouldn’t merely devise plans, but should instead focus on becoming true “media mentors.”
“Even though the media landscape is constantly changing, some of the same parenting rules apply,” says AAP technical report lead author Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos. “Parents play an important role in helping children and teens navigate the media environment, just as they help them learn how to behave offline.”
In addition to modeling good behavior, this may also mean familiarizing yourself with social media sites, video games, and television programs with which you’re not otherwise familiar. After all, how can you help your digitally immersed tween or teen learn how to navigate the brave new digital world if you’re not aware of what they’re up against out there?
Other ways to be a media mentor? Co-viewing with your kids is a great starting point. Also build plenty of opportunities for engaging with them outside the media sphere. Your Family Media Use Plan may also include time for other activities which get families off of their phones and “connecting” in new and beneficial ways.
While setting up your Family Media Use Plan can seem overwhelming, you don’t have to do it alone. The AAP has developed a handy interactive tool aimed at helping families customize plans which works best for their own unique lifestyles and values. And remember: In involving your children as partners in the process and committing yourself to modeling best practices, you’re not just promoting safe media usage while they’re still under your roof, but you’re also teaching them to carry these balanced behaviors forward into adulthood.