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Beyond Screen Time: Developing Healthy Kids in the Age of Social Media

The scene:  I’m at Target waiting in line to pay for more items than I intended to buy, and things are taking longer than usual.  The culprit: a check writer…wait, what?  Who even has those anymore?  It was a reminder to me of where we’ve come as a society.  Let’s face it, the digital age is here, and technology use in 2018 is unavoidable, and so many things, like writing checks, have become archaic. 

Technology has brought some amazing upticks in productivity, communication, ease of access to news and people, unique means to create and build relationships, and entertainment.  Research cautions us, however, on the excessive use of technology, especially when it comes to raising our kids.  There is now abundant evidence to show that when we limit kids’ screen time, kids behave better, get more and better quality sleep, perform more effectively in school, and have better social skills (See here for more evidence: https://medium.com/s/little-minds-and-big-screens/six-screen-time-studies-that-changed-my-parenting-approach-68a3d32e0bc2).

With the internet laden with research and guidelines and tips to help parents manage technology, you’re probably wondering what sage and novel wisdom I have for you about setting screen time limits.  Well, here are some pro tips that don’t get much “screen time”:

1 - Practice what you preach – It’s hard for kids to take you seriously about limiting their screen time when your eyes are glued to yours, especially when they’re looking to play, interact, or have you watch them do something they just learned.  Kids know when you’re mailing it in.  Maybe you should be able to have more screen time than they do “because I’m the adult,” but that answer doesn’t help resolve the screen battle.  Pro tip #1: Schedule “family screen time” where everyone’s allowed on their technology for 30-45 minutes, and when time’s up, everyone does a family based activity together with no screens, such as a fun game…anything done together without technology so you can all connect.

2 – Look for opportunities to turn screen time into a connecting time with your child – Screen time can be an isolating, solo venture, everyone watching their own thing on different devices.  Pro tip #2: Have “family screen time” sessions become a science project or show-and-tell type activity.  At the end of screen time, each family member takes five minutes each to talk about (NOT just show the video) something interesting or weird or inspiring or notable they just watched and what they got out of it.  This type of active engagement boosts accountability and conversation.  When we really connect with, instead of blindly viewing content, we can teach our kids and ourselves to be better consumers of information. 

3 – Encourage responsible use and model such use – You’d balk at the idea of letting your kids binge on junk food whenever they wanted it, and the same holds true with internet and screen time.  Pro tip #3:  Use technology to teach your kids how to browse responsibly, how to not download malware, how to avoid explicit content on YouTube, etc.  Even minor yet purposeful reminders about responsible screen usage, and the opportunity to have open dialogue about content on the internet is important.  Your kids will be using technology for school and perhaps have a cell phone for communication purposes…let’s teach them how to use it like we teach them to clean their room, do math homework, and learn music or sports skills. 

So start these conversations with your family, start setting screen time limits and boundaries, and explore creative ways to connect with and help your kids develop the skills needed to be productive, kind and compassionate. 

In solidarity, and in kindness, Dr. Farwell