When I was a young child, the only TV shows my parents let us watch were Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, or anything else on PBS. Occasionally, we watched The Brady Bunch, until my mom declared the show off limits. She was convinced that the more my siblings and I watched The Brady Bunch, the more we fought with each other. I remember being upset at her decision – how could life, and my mom, be so unfair?!? Now that I’m a parent, I can understand she was doing her best to keep four kids busy, healthy, and alive. That was “back in the day” when TVs were the main form of screen time. These days, screens are everywhere, which can create bigger parenting challenges than four bickering children.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, please email me at [email protected]
My kids are 3, 6, and 11 years old, and they love video games and streaming movies. I try to limit their screen time on weeknights during the school year, but now that it’s summertime, my kids expect to have more screen time. I don’t think it’s realistic to completely cut out screen time, but I don’t want them to spend the whole summer staring at screens either. What do you suggest?
It’s true that technology has become an everyday part of life for many people, including children. While not all screen time is bad, too much of it can affect children’s well-being. A 2016 survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that “children and teenagers who spent more time on screens were lower in psychological well-being: They were less curious and more easily distracted, and had a more difficult time making friends, managing their anger and finishing tasks. Teenagers who spent an excessive amount of time on screens were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.” It often feels unrealistic for many parents to eliminate – or even significantly reduce – children’s screen time. And yet, it’s important for children to learn social-emotional skills such as accepting limits, following rules, and being good “digital citizens.” Here are some tips to try:
Create family rules about screen time. Involve your kids in creating a few simple rules about screen time limits and games, apps, and web sites they can use on electronic devices. Focus on what you want your kids to do (“Turn phones off at bedtime”) instead of focusing on what not to do (“No phones at night.”). If needed, adjust the rules for each child based on their age or maturity level. For example, the World Health Organization recommends zero screen time for infants under 1 year old and less than one hour of sedentary screen time each day (e.g. playing video games or watching TV) for children ages 2-4. So your 3-year old might get one hour of screen time each day, while your 11-year old might get two hours per day.
Have engaging activities available. Summertime boredom or loneliness can make video games, apps, and social media even more appealing to kids. Encourage your kids to read, play active games, explore outside, cook, do art activities – anything that keeps their brains and bodies busy, engaged, and interested in something other than sedentary screen time.
Give descriptive praise. When your kids follow the rules or choose an activity other than screen time, acknowledge their efforts and choices. Be specific and genuine as you praise them – “Thanks for turning off the computer when your time was up. Playing outside is a great idea.”
Set a good example. Monitor your own screen time and describe the limits you’re setting for yourself. For example, put your phone away during mealtimes. If it rings, ignore it and say, “I’ll check it after dinner.” Modeling and describing your actions shows your children how to set and follow limits.
FINAL THOUGHTS: We live in an era where screen time is nearly impossible to avoid, yet it’s our job as parents and caregivers to set limits and help our kids learn to make healthy choices on their own. Kids may think screen time limits are unnecessary or unfair, but our guidance will help them be healthier in the long run.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 15 and 19, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, the world's leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, www.facebook.com/triplepscc or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or [email protected]