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Ask an Expert – Nine tips to help youth manage screen time

By Naomi Brower, Utah State University Extension professor - | Sep 7, 2022

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the average 8-to-12-year-old child spends 4-to-6 hours a day watching or using screens. Teens spend up to 9 hours daily, and research also suggests that they spend an average of one hour daily on social media.

Not surprisingly, children are spending more time with screen media than ever before, and at younger ages. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the average 8-to-12-year-old child spends 4-to-6 hours a day watching or using screens. Teens spend up to 9 hours daily, and research also suggests that they spend an average of one hour daily on social media.

Excessive screen time often leads to less outdoor or physical activity, less interaction with family and friends, sleep challenges, and increased mood problems (depression, anxiety, etc.). Youth may also be exposed to developmentally inappropriate content, cyberbullying, predators, and more.

Despite this, not all screen time is bad. There are many benefits and opportunities, including connecting youth with friends and family, promoting social support and inclusion, and providing educational opportunities.

Parents play a critical role in helping children navigate the digital world. Consider these tips:

1. Set limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization encourage families to ensure plenty of time for physical activity and social interaction. There isn’t a magic number for the appropriate amount of screen time per child, but it is important that what they watch and play is quality, age appropriate, and that parents know what their child is doing.

2. Select high-quality media. While not all media has to be educational, help maximize screen time with media that helps children think critically, develops their creativity through creating songs, art, poetry, etc., or that helps them connect with and understand the world around them.

3. Spend time with your child. Screen time doesn’t have to be alone time. Watching and playing together can increase social interactions, learning, and bonding.

4. Create boundaries and tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes and gatherings screen-free to build social bonds and engage in two-way conversation. And since electronics can be a potential distraction after bedtime and can interfere with sleep, consider keeping screens out of their rooms. You may want to designate an inaccessible place to charge electronics at night or download apps that disable the device at bedtime.

5. Teach children to be good digital citizens. Share your expectations of how to act responsibly online and what your children should do if they see inappropriate content.

6. Discuss the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators. Youth need to know that once content is electronically shared, they will not be able to remove or delete it completely. Teach youth about privacy settings, and be sure to monitor their activity to help keep them safe.

7. Establish consequences. Consider setting time or location limits if your child has difficulty putting a phone away when you ask, watches inappropriate content, or engages in inappropriate media-related behavior.

8. Model the manners and behavior you want to see. Avoid texting in the car. Model good digital citizenship in your interactions with others online. Limit your own media use.

9. Create a family media plan. Agreed-upon expectations can help you establish healthy technology boundaries in your home. Create a family media plan that promotes open family discussion and rules about media use. Include topics such as balancing screen/online time, content boundaries, and not disclosing personal information. Having these conversations encourages age-appropriate critical thinking and digital literacy. For information on creating a family media plan, visit www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.

Media and digital devices are an integrated part of our society today. They can be an excellent resource, but there should be boundaries. Digital devices can never replace the benefits of face-to-face interactions and learning.

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