Guest Post by Joe Peters
There is just no denying that modern-technology is bringing never-before-seen benefits to this new generation, your kid’s generation.
From engaged learning to digital babysitting, both parents and children seem to be very happy with the “digital paradigm” of today. However, while this paradigm brings with it a host of boons, it may have the potential of bringing just as many curses as well.
As parents are finding it easier to have digital devices like smartphones and iPads share the “parental load” with them, children not only turning to digital devices for entertainment & learning but also for comfort.
So, is this good, bad, or both? Let’s take a look…
Dangers of Too Much Screen Time
No doubt technology is bringing many advantages to your children’s lives, many advantages you never were privy to at such a young age:
- Hand-Eye Coordination (without the need of engaging in strenuous physical activity)
- Increased Visual Attention
- Improved Language Skills
- Motivation (learning & mundane tasks in general)
- Social Skills (increased social interactions)
- Spatial Skills
- Broadened Horizons (big-picture future)
These are some wonderous times to be a child indeed, yet along with all the bonuses that the digital world this current generation (Gen Z) has been born into comes a host of pitfalls, many of which are related to staring at a screen for too long.
These pitfalls are not just hypothesis either, studies have confirmed that too much “screen time” can cause both mental & physical damage to your child.
- Eye Disorders (dry eye, nearsightedness, blurred vision, light sensitivity)
- Poor Physical Health & Obesity (lack of movement & exercise, too much sitting)
- Mental Consequences
- Increased Depression & Suicide Among Teens (cyberbullying & social pressure)
- Poorer Emotional Intelligence & Social Development (tend to lose touch with the offline world – the real world)
- Identity Theft – yes it exists among kids too and usually happens when a cybercriminal gets a hold of a child’s Social Security number in order to commit fraud, so it’s important to know how to prevent it
- Online Predators – predators often build online friendships with inexperienced Internet users like children to gain their trust
Studies have shown that the above factors can occur when your child is exposed to too much “screen time”. Obviously, one way to eliminate the risks of the above consequences is to limit the time your child spends online or on any digital device for that matter.
The problem, however, is how to go about laying down the “set time” cyberlaw without limiting the benefits of what the Internet and modern digital devices can offer them.
Setting Screen Rules
The first part of setting rules for your child’s screen time is to follow them yourself.
If you can not unglue yourself from watching Youtube videos, searching for random things on Google, constantly checking your Facebook Timeline, or answering emails, then how can you expect or even ask your child to do the same?
That being said, there are some ways in which to implement certain “guidelines” that can reduce unnecessary screen time & that do not incorporate rewarding more “digital” time for following directions & good behavior – a method that can definitely work to limit the amount of time spent online or on the phone but can also enforce the belief that digital activities are more important than other ones.
7 Screen Time Tips
- Set screen times that both you and your child follow. In this way, your child will know that mommy & daddy also follow the rules and won’t feel like you are just picking on them because you are older. The best example to set for your kid does not lie in what you are saying but in what you are doing.
- Discuss the benefits & potential dangers of digital devices and too much screen time (you can use the information listed above for reference).
- Explain to your children some of the rules set by your parents when you were growing up – rules that developed certain qualities like self-control, discipline, and morals within you & then tie them into how limited screen time can also inculcate such values and habits within them.
- Learn more about digital devices. Unless you understand both the benefits and dangers of games, apps, sites and a host of other modern-day digital wares, you will not know what to limit and what to avoid or even the difference between the two. Always do some background research on the apps your child downloads, the sites they visit, and the software they use regularly to stay up-to-date with the most recent technological trends.
- Create “Free Zones”, more specifically, “Digital Free Zones”. These are places around the house where your child and even you can not use any digital devices. For example, at the dining table or in their room.
- Today’s television sets, online browsers, smartphones, and computers (desktop & laptops) come with parental controls that can block shows, sites, & apps that you feel can be detrimental to your child. Get to know them & use them wisely!
- Help your child partake in activities that don’t involve screens. This can include playing sports, walks in the park, reading books, attending plays, and doing extracurricular activities in school. Partake in them yourself if it helps your child get interested in something else other than their smartphone, TV, or iPad.
While the above tips can help to lay down the foundation for screen-time rules in your house, there are browsers out there can do a lot of the “lifting work” when it comes to limiting the time your child spends in front of a screen.
You can’t always be monitoring what your kid watches on a screen, so why not let technology do this job for you? At least some of it anyway!
Some of the major kid-friendly browsers are as follows:
- Kiddle: Brought to you by the most advanced browser in the world, Google, Kiddle returns only safe and secure results and images for your kids.
- YouTube Kids: Allows your kid to watch the videos most pertinent to their search without displaying any controversial ones related or not related to the topic.
- Kidz Search: Produces kid-friendly results, and acts as a home screen & a browser all rolled up into one so your child has no chance to use any other browser that may not have kid-safe features pre-installed within it.
- My Munka: Boasts a 98% blockage rate of inappropriate material – material your child should not be viewing at such an impressionable age.
Creating a Screen Time Contract from Scratch
It is not enough to just discuss the why what, & when of your screen-time rules with your children, there must be a contract formed between you and them that solidifies the reasons and the rules in a practical and pragmatic way that both sides (parents & children) can understand.
Contracts teach kids to adhere to obligations, develop responsibility, understand the necessity for rules, and help define the consequences that await them should those rules be broken.
Contracts, in the sense of screen-time & online content rules, are basically family agreements that help bring families closer together and not apart – they maintain a healthy relationship between parents & children and actually start to develop some of the values which were previously discussed earlier on in this article.
While there are plenty of free resources & templates online, it is important to use them as a starting point and tailor them to your child’s specific age and level of understanding.
There is no point in using a screen-time agreement if your child does not fully understand what they are agreeing to!
A basic template for a screen-time contract is provided below. Please, feel free to alter it in any way you see fit. All changes are good as long as they clearly identify the fundamental rules, rights, & consequences that all parties can clearly understand – parents need to understand it too, especially where modern-day technological aspects are concerned.
IMPORTANT: When you sit down with your child to draft up a screen time contract, be sure to discuss how the contract is not a form of punishment but a way to get everyone in the house participating in healthy habits. In this case, a healthy screen time habit is one that produces the maximum amount of benefits that technology has to offer while limiting some of the mental & physical consequences that too much technological use can have on a child’s and even adult’s experience of life.
(Family Name) Screen Time Contract
1 – Weeknight/School Night Screen Time Limits
All digital devices in the (Family Name) household will be shut down at ____________ o’clock. The (Family Name) household will be allowed to turn their devices back on after breakfast the next day.
2- Weekends/Holiday Screen Time Limits
During weekends & holidays, the (Family Name) household will be allowed to use their digital devices for ________ hours/minutes per day.
3 – Travel/Vacation Screen Time Limits
While traveling or on vacation, our family will only use digital devices for ________ hours/minutes in the morning and _______ hours/minutes in the evening. One digital device will be designated for emergency reasons only.
4 – Digital Device Limits
Each member of the (Family Name) will not use any digital device during the following events:
- During meals.
- When visitors are over.
- At family gatherings.
5 – Device Storage/Charging
Each member of the (Family Name) family will not charge or store any of their digital devices in their personal rooms. Instead, the ________ room will be dedicated for device storage & charging purposes.
6 – Screen Time Rights/Privileges
The following chores/activities must be completed before _________ can access their device after coming back home from school:
- Homework/School Assignments
- Outdoor Activities/Extracurricular Activities
7 – Other Activities
I ________ promise to engage in the following activities when not using my screen time/when my screen time is finished:
Sports (choose specific sport)
Exercise (list out the specific exercise)
Art or Instrument (drawing, writing, playing music, singing, etc…)
8 – Social Media Etiquette
I _________ promise never to harass, bully, or tease anyone on any social media platform.
9 – Internet Use/Password Protection
In the (Family Name) household, the parents will keep all passwords for all digital devices and social media accounts – no secret passwords or accounts will be allowed.
Also, children under the age of _________ within the (Family Name) household are not allowed to access the Internet unless supervised by a parent or a designated member of the family.
10 – Consequences (What Happens If/When Contract Is Broken)
The (Family Name) household recognizes that access to digital devices within and outside of the home is a privilege and not a right. Therefore, if any of the above parts of the contract are broken 3 or more times by any member within the (Family Name) household, their digital devices shall be taken away. Just how long will be decided by the parents.
Signatures (all members of (Family Name) household: ____________, __________________, _____________________ , ____________, __________________, _____________________
Setting screen time limits can provide children with easily accessible educational tools & activities, higher language skills, and a host of other psychological attributes that will help them become an integral part of the global society that has formed around digital technology.
Speaking with your kids about the importance of screen time limits and drafting up a contract for such limits for your household can help them to take full advantage of this digital age without the added disadvantages that abusing such benefits can bring along with it.
Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate tech enthusiast. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie enjoys spending time with his family, reading about the latest tech gadgets and binge-watching his favorite TV shows. You can reach him @bmorepeters