Written by Christine Jordan, EdS, LMFT
"Would you please put down your phone?"
We ask our children this question daily. Digital media is easily available through TVs, computers, tablets, smart phones and video game consoles. Managing the many screens our kids watch is daunting, especially because they watch not just one but multiple screens at a time. So where do we start?
In 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) held a media research symposium with experts in the fields of research, education and medicine. The purpose was to better understand the effects of digital media on children. From this symposium, the AAP created a list of recommendations for parents.
Set limits at every age. The AAP recommends setting limits with digital media just like you do with behavior, bedtime and parenting. However, taking control of digital media in your home can easily feel like you are engaging in a battle. Setting limits goes smoother when you first take time to connect with your children. Let your kids teach you about their favorite video games. Find out why it is so important to them before you discuss limiting time with these games. Once you start talking about setting limits, involve your children. Kids are more likely to follow a plan that they helped you create. When you put this into practice, you may try asking, "I understand you enjoy video games. What other activities do you enjoy? Can we work together to have fun in a variety of ways?"
Avoid displacement. Digital media can easily take the place of other important activities like conversation and play. Notice what is missing because of your family's use of digital media. Brainstorm with your family a list of fun things to do together that don't involve a phone, computer or television. Also, planning when family time occurs will make it more likely to happen. By adding media-free time together, your family will naturally spend less time staring at screens.
Create media-free zones. Create places in your family life where digital media is not allowed. Dinner time or before bed can be a time when all screens are off limits. Your family may decide that bedrooms will be media-free zones after a certain time in the evening. Decide together where everyone's phones will charge overnight. A car ride used to be the best place to engage a child in conversation. Now with the portability of screens, many children spend their car ride looking at a phone or tablet. Make the car a media-free zone to get conversation going again.
Model media behaviors. Children imitate adults, so it is important to limit your own use of digital media. When your kids ask you to put your phone down, take them seriously and respond to their request for some one-on-one attention. This may be the perfect time to discuss how difficult it is to manage phones and computers in our lives.
Engage in digital media together. Encourage your kids to share with you what they are doing online. This will increase your understanding of digital media's importance to your children. It will also help you understand what they are looking at every day. Since these devices are an integral part of our lives, experiencing them together can add richness to your family life. Skyping together with a grandparent who lives in another town is just one example of how digital media can help us remain connected.
It is never too late to help your kids and family make changes around digital media. With your leadership as a parent, you may be surprised at your children's willingness to put down their phones and do something that does not involve a screen.