Parents primary technology concern used to be with the amount of time children spent in front of the TV, but now smartphones and portable devices make the amount of time your child spends in front of technology virtually limitless. Even though these devices can be very stimulating and engaging for your child, they may cause serious problems within your household. For example, when you try to take the device away before bedtime your child may throw a tantrum, or you may be tired of competing with social media to gain the attention of your tween or teen. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Too much or poor-quality screen time has been linked to: obesity, irregular sleep schedules and shorter duration of sleep, behavioral problems, loss of social skills, violence, and less time for play.” You may be aware that your kids are spending significant amounts of time in front of technology screens, but what can you do? Here are 6 ways to help you set some healthy limits with phones for your kids.
It is always easier to set limits and address issues before they even begin. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no media use for children under 2-years old (with exceptions for video-chatting) and an hour a day of high-quality programming for 2-5-year old’s. As your child grows, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends no more than 1-2 hours per day of screen time. These limits allow your child the time to develop play skills and interests in other areas. Once you set these limits, it is paramount to stick with them as much as possible! Encourage others in your child’s life (e.g., grandparents, babysitters) to also enforce and respect these expectations.
Set Realistic Goals
Setting limits is important, but you also need to think about a realistic place to begin. You should set the desired goal and then take baby steps to get there. If you want your tween who currently has their phone in their hand from the time they get home to the time they go to bed, then a good first step is banning devices during meals or until homework is finished. Removing the device from their room at night is another good place to start.
Use for a Functional Purpose
There are some great uses for technology and being strategic with using them in your home is key. Technology can be a great tool and skill for your kids to develop. Think of ways that the phone can be used to gain information rather than just for leisure. Can they find a new recipe to try for dinner? Can they add up the total or find the best value of any item at the grocery? Challenge your child to learn an advanced skill like coding, foreign language, or to cook with the assistance of their phone.
Use as a Reward
Kids love their phones, so use it as a reward and a privilege, rather than an expected right. It may sound like, “After you finish your homework then you can play on your phone for 30 minutes before dinner.” Or “I appreciate you cleaning your room so quickly, now you have time to text before soccer practice.”
Teach Phone Etiquette
Just like you taught manners for eating at a restaurant, they also need to be taught the “unspoken” rules around using phones. Kids learn these skills by them being directly taught, modeled, practiced, and given feedback. It is important for them to understand when it is appropriate to use their phone versus having a conversation with others. Overall, kids are not having as many conversations face to face. As a parent, you can provide opportunities for them to interact with other kids and develop hobbies in areas beyond technology. These skills and interests will be valuable throughout their lives.
Modeling as a Parent
This is likely the hardest one, but you need to demonstrate what you are expecting of your child. Are you using your phone for functional purposes and putting it down to engage socially? Put limits and boundaries on yourself and your kids will notice. This is likely the only way to get respect about the boundaries you set on them.
This is not going to be easy, but it is worth it in the long run when you are consistent with when the phone is available and how they are expected to use it. Using the cell phone is a lot of responsibility, and as a parent, you are there to teach and guide them in how to balance using it as a tool and for fun.
Dacia McCoy, PhD, BCBA-D, Assistant Professor-Educator at the University of Cincinnati in the Behavior Analysis Programs.