Screen Saver
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Screen Saver

A Guide for Parents Raising Kids in the Tech Age

August 12, 2019

A hot topic in developmental psychology is how much screen time to allow kids, and for good reason. We see many parents and children who are trying to negotiate screen time (usually the kids) with a healthy balance of physical activity, playtime with other kids, nutrition, sleep, and schoolwork (typically the parents). So how much screen time is too much?

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is very clear with their guidelines for children up to age 5: Only one hour a day or less. The guidelines for older children, however, are murkier. One way to gauge the right amount of screen time is by watching your child’s behavior before, during, and after the activity. If your child isn’t getting their schoolwork done, isn’t sleeping at least 8 hours per night (and more like 9-11 hours for younger children), isn’t eating regularly, is neglecting their body care, and can’t seem to interact well with family members and other children, there’s a problem A telltale sign of possible screen addiction is reactive aggression when you cease or limit their technology. Some grumbling and complaining? Perfectly normal. Prolonged tantrums, name-calling, and angry, defiant behavior? Time to consult a professional.

Based on our clinical experience, and through perusing current research, the following is a guide on how to monitor your child’s screen time and protect their mental and physical health.

Start out strong

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  • Don’t provide a smart phone to kids under the age of 12. If they need a phone to be able to call or text you, consider a limited-minutes phone with your emergency numbers programmed in or using a “dumb phone.”

Decide on a reasonable amount of screen time and stick to it

  • Limit screen time on school nights – allow only after homework, chores, and dinner only. Even consider limiting screen time to weekends, if your child isn’t getting their school work done on a regular basis.
  • Limit your children eating in front of the television. It is a recipe for overeating or underrating and teaches poor behavioral controls around food.

Use screen time conversations as a teaching tool

  • Tell your child about why screen time limits are necessary for their brain development and wellbeing.
  • Talk to your tween and teenage children about Internet pornography in a non-shaming way. Explain that it is for adults only and ask them to tell you if they are shown it by their peers or at friend’s houses.
  • Teach children to regulate their big emotions, such as anger, hurt, sadness, or disappointment, with self-care: gentle breathing, positive distractions, creative outlets, taking a time out, using a fidget toy, or getting a drink of water.
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Stay consistent with guidelines and follow through on your word when setting limits on screen time

  • Learn about games and social media platforms before letting your child use them, and sit in on a session with them. Games such as Fortnite are designed to be addictive, and require you to pay to move on to another level.
  • Don’t let children under the age of 16 game for more than 2 hours at a time without a significant break for snacks and rest.
  • Check your child’s internet history.
  • Install parental controls on the technology in your house, and don’t share passwords with your kids.
  • Gradually adjust limits over time as you observe your child’s behavior.

Offer alternatives to screen time

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  • Suggest making art, being physically active, reading, playing with toys, board games, and conversation.
  • Encourage your child to have playdates with other children – but don’t send your child on playdates with their tablet.

Create a regular bedtime routine

  • Stick to a regular bedtime (one hour later on weekends is okay) to keep your child’s circadian rhythms healthy.
  • Dim lights one hour before bedtime so your child’s body can start to produce melatonin, our body’s natural hormone that induces sleepiness.
  • Read to your children before sleep, or have them read or listen to audiobooks.
  • Have your child “check in” their phone before bedtime so it isn’t beside them during sleep.

Don’t use screen time as a punishment or pacifier

  • Research shows that rewarding or punishing children with screen time makes it more desirable to them. A simple “no” suffices.
  • Don’t use screen time to get your child to be quiet or settle. This quickly teaches them that they need “a fix” to regulate their feelings.
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Limit your own screen time

  • Schedule technology-free family time regularly, such as meals, board games, chore time, and outings.
  • Remember that children learn from the adults around them – if you are enforcing new household habits, be sure you follow your own rules!

Get professional help if your child is showing signs of screen addiction

  • NCC has professional, licensed therapists at affordable costs to help your child through their screen addiction. Call our intake line at 503-253-0964 for more information.

If you are trying to change some bad habits in your household, be patient. Often we find that when parents start to limit screen time, children throw tantrums. These tantrums are called an “extinction burst” and commonly get worse before the behavior gets better. Be persistent and consistent, and it will get better!

-Korina Jochim, LMFT, NCC Clinical Manager


Screen Free Week

Is Screen Time Bad for Kids’ Brains from The New York Times

Controlling Children’s Behavior with Screen Time from Science Daily

Screen Limit Time Debate from The Chicago Tribune