So your preschooler might watch a 30-minute educational TV show with you once a day, while your 12-year-old gets an hour a day of screen time on apps like Discord or age-appropriate video games after they finish homework.
Dr. Delaney Ruston, parent, pediatrician, and creator of the award-winning film Screenagers, says there are ways parents can get it right—and wrong—when it comes to helping kids manage their own screen time. “The number one thing that we can do to most effectively parent our kids and teens in the digital age is all about how we talk to them about screen time,” she says.
Here are dos and don’ts for having that talk and helping them set up good screen use habits down the road.
DO state your values as a family
“Those values become the backbone for the rules,” says Dr. Ruston. She and her family decided that they value creativity, competency, and connection. “Research shows that kids 8 to 18 years old spend just 3 percent of their time online creating—doing such things as creating music, writing blogs, or other such endeavors,” she notes. Because this is a value for her family, Dr. Ruston has rules around setting time for creative endeavors, online and off. “They are the things I want to make sure my kids get in ‘real life’ and on screens as well.”
DON’T exclude kids from the rules convo
“The key around rules is getting their collaboration when possible, making sure they understand why there are rules and then adjusting them and checking in over time,” says Dr. Ruston. Want to get their buy-in on the whole rules idea? Let them have a say, and then make a final judgment call. Limits help kids establish healthy digital habits so they can eventually self-regulate when you’re not in the room. Need help? Here are four key rules to consider for your child’s screen time, including no electronic devices in the bedroom or at meal times, that Dr. Ruston suggests on her blog.
DO say positives about screen time
“What I learned in the process of getting things to work better for our family is to say positives about screen time,” says Dr. Ruston. Kids love their online time, and they’ll be able to talk to you about their experiences, good and bad, if they know that you value the benefits too (and don’t just see it as something to take away). Maintaining an open dialogue will make you feel more confident about how they’re managing their own screen time, too.