"All of my friends have iPads" "When can I get a phone?" "Can we watch SpongeBob?" "Can I play Clash of Clans?" If you have a preteen in your home, you have probably heard these comments or something similar. I am so thankful that my childhood was so much simpler to navigate as we didn't have cable TV and were allowed to choose between five channels to watch for one hour a day. Times have changed and I have come to the realization that I am quite tied to my iPhone–more than I would like. We had to come up with some rules for our home in regards to screen time in order to have consistency and an action plan. I read the book Growing up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane for some direction and would like to share some thoughts from the book.
The biggest thing that stood out to me was the answer to the question "How much is too much?" The recommended maximum amount of screen time for children ages two and up: the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than two hours per day. This is a general guideline which we have now adopted for our home and will revisit once our kids are older and using the computer for school work and have social media accounts etc. The average screen time for kids 8-18 years of age is seven hours per day. Seven hours. The concerns about this are numerous and here are some of the potential struggles: decrease in attention span, lack of social skills, decrease in empathy, less time in nature, multitasking leading to lower quality work, increase in online bullying, higher risk of sexual exploitation, obesity, irregular sleep and less creative play. In regards to online bullying, 42% of grade 4-8 students said that had experienced it; this is something I would not have handled well and I don't want my kids to have to go through it either.
One suggestion to help combat a high screen usage is to have digital free zones such as the bedroom (one study showed 71% of children have a TV in their room–could this be true?), meal time, car rides, and scheduled non-screen time for sports, reading and playing. Another recommendation is to have digital rules for yourself as parents and it is important to remember that we set the tone for our family. I have been much more aware of my usage and am being more intentional at trying to keep my phone away when we are together as a family–fortunately I use my DSLR for photos so that helps too! Finally, bed times. My kids always tell me that all their friends get to stay up so much later but at this stage 8 PM works well. They are welcome to read for 30 minutes but they definitely do not need more screen time at the end of a long day. There are days when we may go over, such as our Friday night movie nights, but that is also intentional family time where we are all enjoying it together.
When teaching, I ask the high schoolers what social media sites they are using and most prefer Snapchat and Instagram. When I inquire as to whether their parents are on those sites, many say that their parents just don't understand how it works so they aren't. This is a problem as we really need to know what our kids are doing. Do our children realize that the "kid" in the online game chat room could actually be a 40-year-old man? The average age in which a child views pornography is 11. I think this is an important discussion to be had with our kids. The age at which a child can get a Facebook or Instagram account is 13 but several of my son's friends have it already and have tried to get him on. He's 10. No thanks.
In a world that is rapidly changing, if we are not sure what to do, I would encourage us all to err on the side of caution. Although there is a time for screens (I don't think I could do extended road trips without them!) I see such an improvement in their attitudes and behaviour when we spend time out in nature. Make sure you put in the time to understand the social media sites that your children are on. And finally, screen time should be where you can see them–there is a lower chance of inappropriate usage going on if it's being done in the family room. Maybe you're thinking "Louise, your kids are young, you have no idea what you're talking about" and I hear you because I only know about the stage I'm in now. However, if we set the tone while they are young I'm thinking we'll have a better handle on it as they are exposed to more and more of what the digital world has to offer.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. What is too much for you? What rules do you have in place?