“Family, peers and school have long been recognised as the three environments of a child’s socialisation - the digital environment has become the fourth.” Professor Gordon Harrold, eNurture Network
Parenting has never been easy. But the era of fast-developing technology with smartphones, online games and social media brings a lot more challenges to raising modern children.
One of the most debated topics among parents today is screen time. How much screen time is too much? How technology can affect children’s development? Where is the line between online and offline? Parents and professionals from children-related fields are trying to find answers to these burning hot questions.
What are the limits for screen time?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) developed guidelines regarding the limits of screen time.
• 0-18 months of age: the AAP recommends no screen time, except occasional video chatting along with an adult (for instance, with a parent who is out of town).
• 18-24 months: screen time should be limited to watching high-quality programs together with a caregiver.
• 2-5 years old: limit screen time to about 1 hour per day.
For older age groups the AAP does not provide specific hour guidelines, but it recommends that parents of kids between five and 18 place CONSISTENT limits on technology use, striving for balance between online and offline.
What can be done to reach this balance?
1: Reinforce healthy technology habits
Set times when screens can be used and when they should be turned off (meals, family conversations, car rides, 1 hour before bedtime, etc.). Tech-free zones in your home might also be a good idea.
2: Set rules as a family
When you set limits together with kids, they can start learning how to self-regulate and know when screen time is interfering too much with their lives. The family media plan from the Institute of Child Psychology is an extremely helpful tool that can be used for this purpose. Turn it into a fun activity for the whole family letting even the youngest members participate in the process of rule setting.
3: Talk with kids about privacy and security
Have open conversations with your children about social media practices. Discuss positives and negatives. If you have teenagers in the house, arrange a movie night to watch “The Social Dilemma”, a Netflix documentary about the mind-blowing impact of social networking. Many teenagers are well-known for ignoring information delivered by parents, but when it is shared by prominent tech experts from Facebook and Google, it will most likely reach teens’ minds much faster.
4: Make sure that offline activities are not replaced by screen time.
Football is still much more fun when played using a real ball with real people.
5: Be a role-model!
Technology is as irresistible for parents as for children. When parents check messages every 15 minutes, constantly scroll their Wechat moments or Instagram posts, text in the middle of conversations, it is ridiculous to expect that children will be more tech conscious. So, start with yourselves before imposing rules and limits on your children!
Please keep in mind that there is no single recipe for success. You might (and most likely will!) go through trial and error more than a few times. Just remember that on the way to the elusive balance your relationship with your children should not be sacrificed.
Contributed by Tatiana Kutsenko, School Counselor, Western International School of Shanghai.
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