4 Steps to Managing Your Child’s Screen Time


Is it just me or does it seem like children have lost their  playfulness?  Many of us can recall summer days spent playing games outside with  friends,  riding bikes, playing hopscotch, or making forts in the woods. Now,  though, it  seems that most kids prefer to lead a wired existence, constantly  connected to  some electronic device. Many parents are exasperated by their  child’s constant  technology use and the degree to which tablets, TVs, video  games, laptops and  smart phones have taken over their household. I once talked  to a desperate  mother whose child was sending upwards of 20,000 texts per month  (No, that is  not a typo.) Like this mom, many parents who we hear from are fed  up and  looking to take back control. Here are 4 steps you can take to manage or  limit  your child’s use of technology so that it works for you and your family.

The  final reward of the screen time can help to motivate your child to accomplish  some more productive goals in the course of a day.


Step 1: Know the Risks that Come with Screen Time

You’ve probably asked  yourself, “How much screen time is too much?” There  really is no formula to  determine this. When deciding what is appropriate and  in what quantities,  consider the potential risks as well as your child’s  ability to recognize and  avoid dangerous situations.

One issue that stands  out to me as a school counselor is the impact screen  time has on the  development of social skills. This is one of those “chicken or  egg” questions: do  children who lack adequate social skills gravitate toward  technology as a  source of social connection? Or do children who spend a lot of  time in front of  a screen either lose or fail to develop adequate social  skills? While spending  a lot of time in front of a screen could potentially be  linked to poor social  skills, it’s not always the case. Games and technology in  general can be very  rewarding—kids can interact and quickly get positive  feedback from peers  online, from other players in live games, or from scoring  points in the game. But  if your child has trouble fitting in and getting along  with peers, it might  indicate that he needs more face-to-face social  interactions or some coaching  on how to better connect with others from either  you or a counselor.

Another pitfall of  children being surrounded by technology is that it can  expose them to  predators, inappropriate images, stories, or other content, even  when they are  not looking for it. Consider the recent Slender  Man stabbing. It’s a frightening example of  the  many dark corners of the web that children can find themselves in and that  can  influence them in ways we’d never anticipate. Furthermore, children often  do  not have the critical thinking skills to determine what is real and what is   not, which makes them that much more vulnerable to hoaxes, scams, and the lure   of influential internet figures, real or fictional.

Along with possible  exposure to inappropriate content comes the risk of your  child overexposing him  or herself. For example, sharing too much information  about where they live,  where they go to school, or sharing revealing photos of  themselves with others.  Children and teens often have a difficult time seeing  the potential harm in  this and find it hard to believe that others would target  or hurt them. They  feel invincible, thinking “that will never happen to  me.”

Step 2: Know Your Goals So You Can Set Rules

Your child’s screen  time and use of technology should match up with your  goals as a parent. Consider  the following:

  1. As James Lehman says in The Total Transformation Program, if you think  of  your family as a factory, what kind of product do you want to create? How  can  you use or limit screen time to create that product?
  2. What types of technology do you  want to  allow into your home?
  3. How much time do you think is  reasonable  for your child to use technology each day?
  4. Where will your child be allowed  to use  these devices?
  5. Are certain times of day off  limits for  technology use?
  6. What types of content you will  allow  your child to view or interact with?

Whatever rules you  establish, be sure that they are communicated clearly and  enforced  consistently. To assess whether your limits are working, ask yourself  these  questions:

  1. What will we see if the screen  time  rules are working?
  2. What will we do if they are  working?
  3. What will we see if the screen  time  rules are not working?
  4. What will we do if they are not  working?

We also recommend that  you talk with your child ahead of time to plan for  how he will handle himself  if he doesn’t get to play when or as long as he  wants.

Related: How to reason with your child who has  anger  problems

Step 3: Decide What Comes Before Screen  Time

When deciding how to  approach screen time in your home and how to best use  it to your advantage, weigh  these factors:

  1. The maturity level of your   child: Before authorizing more screen time,  consider your child’s  maturity level. Ideally, as your child ages, he or she will  be able to have  more and more autonomy to self-manage. However, this is not  always the case. If  your teen is very immature, irresponsible, or struggles  with self-discipline,  more limits might be appropriate. The bottom line is that  you know your child  best and what he or she is capable of handling. Gradually  add more freedom as  children become better able to self-manage.
  2. Your priorities and  values: What do you want your child to learn in life? What are your  values  as a family? For example, if you really value family time together, then  build  that into your daily routine before any screen time can occur. Priorities  are  just that—they come first, before other things like screen  time.
  3. Your child’s  responsibilities  in the home: Most parents believe  that their child should help out  around the house in some way. For example, a  child as young as 4 might be  expected to put his or her own toys back in a  specific place when done, whereas  teens might have multiple, more complex chores like vacuuming the house or cleaning the  bathroom. Any  responsibilities your child has should also come before  screen time.

Let your child know  exactly what needs to be done each day in order to earn  the privilege of screen  time. Once they’ve checked everything off the list,  screen time is earned. For  example, you might decide that your child needs to  make her bed, play outside  or with a friend for at least an hour, do something  creative for one hour,  spend time in a planned family activity like a picnic or  trip to the pool, and  then once all of that is done, screen time is an option.  In this example,  priorities (family time, creativity, and healthy/social play)  as well as  responsibilities (making the bed, unloading the dishwasher) must be  checked off  the list before screen time is available. The final reward of the  screen time  can help to motivate your child to accomplish some more productive  goals in the  course of a day.

Related: Consequences that will work for your  child

I completely understand  that it’s not easy to do this in some cases. If you  have a child who resists  your rules and boundaries at all costs and seems to  constantly find ways around  your consequences, then read on for some tips on  how to regain some control of  the many devices and gadgets at your child’s  disposal.

Step 4: Know Your Options and Use Them

As a parent, you are in  control of the technology in your home, even if you  don’t feel like you are.  But first, let me say that it’s never effective to get  into a physical power  struggle, a literal tug-of-war over an electronic device  (or anything for that  matter!). If your child hides his device, sneaks time on  it in the middle of  the night, or simply refuses to hand it over, here’s what  you can do.

Passcodes and passwords: Many devices  can be set to require  a password or numeric code in order to allow access. You  can even set some  devices to completely erase themselves after 10 failed log-in  attempts, which  may deter your child from trying to guess the code. Steer clear  of familiar  numbers such as phone numbers, dates of birth, or other number  combinations or  words your child might guess. Newer devices that have  fingerprint scanners  often use numeric codes as backup, so make sure your code  is iron clad and  never share it with your child.

Parental controls: Video game consoles  come equipped with  parental controls built in via the system menu. Using these  controls allows you  to restrict internet access, purchasing ability and games  with restricted  ratings. Some devices can even be set to shut themselves down  for the day after  they have been powered on for a certain amount of time.

Guided access: This is especially  helpful for younger or  less savvy children and is available on some tablets  such as the iPad. It  allows parents to easily turn the guided access function  off and on by touching  the home button a certain number of times and entering the  passcode. Parents  can restrict their child’s use to a specific app, and they  can even circle  parts of the screen they don’t want their child to have access  to during  use.

Facebook privacy/security settings: Facebook’s  security and  privacy settings can prevent your child from showing up in public  search  results, prevent people from posting on his or her page, restrict who  can send  friend requests, and much more. My suggestion is to get your own  account and  play around with the settings and help menus. This way you can see  what  settings work best for your child’s account.

Cellular services: I discovered that my cell phone provider   allows me to suspend and reinstate service just by logging into my account and   clicking a couple of buttons. Cellular providers also offer affordable monthly   apps and subscriptions that enable you to track and limit your child’s usage,   activity, and contacts.

Disabling the device: Your child won’t  hand over the game  controller? No problem. When you have the opportunity to do  so without a  confrontation, you might find it useful to remove the power cord,  the cable  cord, or disable your wireless router. With my cable service, I have  a hub that  controls everything, and if I unplug the hub, all services are kaput.


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