Is excessive screen time really the main cause of negative outcomes in children?
One of the most comprehensive studies on the subject found that in more than 350,000 adolescents, technology use was associated with only 0.4% of overall differences in adolescent mental well-being.
And as much as we wish we could, we can’t completely protect our children from screens.
While doing research for my book on parenting, I discovered that the most successful parents don’t spend time worrying about how much time their kids are spending on digital devices.
Instead, they teach these three skills to help their kids become “screen smart”:
1. How to evaluate the means
Research and explore apps, games, and websites with Your children. Read the user agreement and reviews together, and share any values and concerns you have.
If an app or website seems like a scam, or teaches negative values, discuss why you feel that way and how it would affect your decision to spend time with it.
These conversations will educate them on what responsible media use looks like.
2. How to draw the boundaries of the screen
If you feel like you have very little control over your kids’ screen use, or if you want to set some rules and expectations, consider sitting down in a family meeting to create a digital roadmap.
You can create guidelines that create balance, teach your kids how to use their screens constructively, and help avoid some of the ill effects that can arise.
You may want to discuss things like:
- To minimize sleep loss: Will there be a “media curfew” after which all portable devices will have to be downstairs in a central location?
- To minimize security concerns: Where will children be allowed to use their devices? Will parental locks be installed on the devices?
- To minimize fighting: Will your children have to ask your permission before using screens?
Allow your children to include their input and share how their use of technology will also fit into the roadmap.
3. How to use screens for good
Teach your children that screens and technology are not categorically “bad” influences. They can also be tools for connection, learning, and growth.
I’m pretty sure my son learned to read in part because he was obsessed with the Endless Alphabet app as a preschooler. During the pandemic, he spent much of his screen time playing online chess and programming on Bitsbox, both of which taught him useful skills.
Download educational games and apps for your child and encourage them to reflect on whether or not they are using their technology for good.
After they spend time on their phone, ask, “What did you learn?” or “Who did you talk to? What’s going on in your life?”
Screens are a tool and, like any tool, they can be useful or harmful depending on how they are used. Our goal as parents should be to help children learn to use them in a healthy and constructive way.
Melinda Wenner Moyer is an award-winning contributing editor at Scientific American, a weekly contributor to The New York Times, and a faculty member at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Institute for Journalism. “How to Raise Children Who Aren’t A——-“ it is his first book. Subscribe to your newsletter here.
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