Evaluating content is crucial. There are different types of content that exist in the digital ecosystems many of us frequent. To get a better understanding of what type of content you’re dealing with, ask yourself questions such as: Is it for education or entertainment? Does it encourage your child or student to create or consume? Will it require them to socialize with others?
Additionally, think about content as if it were on a continuum or spectrum. A piece of content can be equally entertaining or educational or it can be more focused on one characteristic than another. Also, there isn’t one “right” type of content your child or student should be engaging with. For instance, there’s a time and place when solo consumption of entertainment is appropriate and other times when it’s not.
2. Create a family plan
Experts recommend setting reasonable screen time guidelines for children, which includes limiting the amount of time they spend on their devices. There are plenty of tools out there that can help parents monitor that. Apple users, for example, can set screen time limits for their apps. Parents can even create a passcode that will secure those settings, preventing their children from extending the time when app limits expire.
Another way to better monitor those limits — while involving the whole family — is by establishing technology curfews before bedtime, or determining areas in the household or times of day where devices aren’t welcome. Put all of these ideas together to build out a family plan surrounding devices, not exclusively talking about it as screen time, but technology use.
3. Monitor the behavior as closely as the time
While setting screen time rules is one method, it’s also important to examine how your child responds to the guidelines you’ve created. For example, how might they act when you ask them to turn off their device or unplug after 30 minutes of screen time? What about after two hours of screen time? Do the answers change depending on what type of content they are engaging with? Consider the answers to these questions as you assess your family plan.
4. Model the behavior you want to see
Researchers have found that children actually learn their tech habits from their parents. Think about some of the bad tech habits you’ve fallen into. Maybe it’s being glued to a screen more than nine hours a day. Maybe it’s not being fully present around your family because you’re sending a work email on your laptop or scrolling through Facebook. Whatever it is, remember that your child will copy your behavior. Be mindful of your habits and set a good example next time you pick up your device.
5. Talk about it
Having conversations with your child about digital device usage is also crucial to striking a balance. Prioritize time before and after your child is on their device to discuss what they plan on doing on it and what they just finished doing. Other points to talk about include how screen time might differ from at-home or personal screen time, as well as how excessive use can impact how they or their friends behave or interact with each other.
Teaching digital citizenship can also help your child become more aware of their screen time and media habits and reflect on it. Ask your child relevant questions — from how a computer screen or smartphone works to whether or not they can tell a real news story from a fake one — and explore the answers together.
While managing screen time may be challenging, especially in a pandemic, it’s not impossible. If you want to dive deeper into this subject, you can find more information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Common Sense Media, Pew Research Center, and Harvard Medical School.