By Mark Timm, CEO Ziglar Family
When I was growing up — and I’ll bet you can relate — the only real media that I was exposed to was television and radio, with TV being the more influential of the two.
But in the 70s and 80s, even what was shown on television was pretty heavily regulated, so parents generally weren’t beside themselves trying to keep us kids from seeing and hearing inappropriate material.
Shows like Dallas or Dynasty were about as ‘bad’ as it got, and kids were often in bed when those shows came on.
The main rules that my friends and I had around TV viewing — if any — were related to how many minutes or hours we could watch per day.
I’m not sure when exactly the FCC guidelines and regulations for what could and couldn’t be shown or said on TV changed, but they certainly did.
When I became a parent, limiting screen time for kids became one of my highest priorities. I needed to protect my own children from exposure to inappropriate material.
Although it didn’t start out this way, we eventually decided in my home that the best course of action would be to eliminate TV viewing altogether, with the exception of occasional family-friendly, positive, uplifting, or inspiring movies on DVD.
So, with limited exposure to television, you’d think we were all set, right?
Not so fast.
Today, screen time encompasses far more than just television. Smart phones, laptops, tablets — screens are everywhere!
If left to their own devices (yes, pun intended!) kids could conceivably spend hours and hours each day glued to one sort of screen or another.
Pediatrician Guidelines for Screen Time
The issue of limiting screen time for all children is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics released new children's health recommendations for 2017.
Previously, the Academy set a very general screen time limit: no more than two hours in front of the TV for kids over age 2.
Today, because we live in a world surrounded by digital media 24/7, defining screen time is more complex than simply limiting hours spent watching television.
For their new guidelines, the AAP has identified screen time as time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes. By this definition, other uses of media, such as online homework, don't count as screen time.
One aspect of the AAP guidelines hasn’t changed: Infants aged 18 months and younger should not be exposed to any digital media, period. They even go so far as to suggest that mothers shouldn’t be watching television when feeding babies, as the noise and flashing lights can be harmfully overstimulating.
Beginning at ages 2 – 5, children can be introduced to screens, but for no more than one hour per day. At this age, the type of media they are exposed to is critical: only high-quality, educational programs should be viewed.
The AAP does support toddlers using face-to-face interactive media, such as Skype or Facetime. Children who are participating in video conversations with distant relatives, for example, can experience some healthy developmental benefits.
By the time children are age 6, and continuing through the teen years, parents must take charge of setting — and consistently enforcing — limits on digital media.
The amount of daily screen time will depend on the child and family, but in all cases, productive time should be given priority over entertainment time.
In other words, before screen time for entertainment happens, priorities like school, homework, physical activity, and in-real-life social contact with friends should be happening.
And don’t forget to budget in the 8 – 12 hours of sleep that healthy kids need!
What example are you setting?
In addition to being our kids’ media monitors, we also need to be sure we are their media mentors. That means it's important for us dads and moms to have healthy digital media habits ourselves.
We are often guilty of letting screen time get in the way of our quality relationship with our kiddos. There are many ways to change that habit, but we have found the most effective is to empower the kids to openly call us out on it.
For example, when I am putting my youngest daughter to bed, if I look at my phone, she can call me out, and I have to go put the phone in the kitchen.
Try these self-assessing questions:
- Are you turning off phones at dinner time to have family conversations?
- Do you make eye contact with your child, not your device, when you’re with him or her?
- Do you have designated media-free locations, such as bedrooms?
- Are you modeling the behaviors around screen time that you expect from your children?
If you don’t already have some guidelines in place with regard to screen time regulation in your household, it’s time. In fact, the AAP offers a free online tool designed to help you do just that.
It’s called the Family Media Plan, and it can be found at the AAP website, healthychildren.org.
Even if you know you’re going to get some push-back from instilling limits on their screen time, it’s the right thing to do. You can do it!
If you do have some guidelines you use on screen time for kids in your household, please share what works for you in the comments below.