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Screen Time: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Parents are bombarded with messages of screen time perils. Here’s how to keep it real.

When the chaperones of Isabella’s international school trip announced that cell phones would not be allowed, there was immediate panic. “I didn’t know how I was going to survive. How would I take pictures? How would I listen to music?,” recalls the 14-year-old high schooler. Fast forward two weeks and Isabella and her friends couldn’t help but admit they enjoyed the vacation from their phones. “I loved taking pictures with a real camera,” she says. “And it was so nice not to be distracted by my phone. I was really able to embrace and take in what I was seeing every day.”

Isabella’s story shows that as much as kids are glued to their devices, they can survive, and often thrive, without them. “The most important factor in deciding what to allow or what works for your family is understanding your child’s growth, development and maturity,” says Ana Homayoun, author Social Media Wellness. Here’s a look at how you can help your family lean on the good over the ugly side of screen time.

The Good Mindful screen time can have some real value. Shows like Sesame Street can give little ones an educational boost while treating them to relatable characters who may help them through some intense feelings. Social media and gaming can be a place where older kids can connect and feel accepted too. Like with all things, moderation is key.

Not sure where that line exists? The American Academy of Pediatrics has your back with doable guidelines for kids of all ages. The World Health Organization also recently issued its own guidelines for kids under five, advising no screen time for kids under 1 year and capping at an hour for those ages 2 to 4. The main goal is that screen time shouldn’t replace creative and active playtime necessary for kid’s development.

“The most paramount issue around digital technology is really around promoting social and emotional wellness,” says Homayou. “Parents should be open and upfront about monitoring policies, and should work with their children to come up with a family mission statement around digital wellness and social media use.” Circle’s conversation starters can help you and your family get to yes when it comes to a consistent screen time plan.

The Bad Many parents today struggle to rein in games like Fortnite and curb late-night texting and scrolling that can impact kids’ sleep and even grades. (Of course, there’s always Circle’s Bedtime feature to help you call lights out, ahem). Taking a step back can also help. “It’s all about getting tweens and teens to understand that they have a choice in how they spend their time online, and that they can opt in to great experiences and opt out of not-so-great ones,” says Homayoun.

Chat with your kids about their time online—the good, the bad and the ugly. Go in with empathy and compassion, suggests Homayoun, and let them know that they can remove themselves from situations that they don’t feel good about. It’s okay to take a break.

Make it a two-way conversation too. “Many parents are trying to navigate this new digital world challenged by their own issues around social media and technology use,” says Homayoun. Share your own experiences and why you may be itching to cut back too. Recent Pew Research suggests that parents are dealing with the same issues around distraction that kids do. Roughly six-in-ten parents of teens (57 percent) say they at least sometimes feel obligated to respond to lphone messages immediately, while 39 percent admit they regularly lose focus at work because they’re checking their phone and 36 percent say they spend too much time on their phone.

The Ugly Headlines with words like “depression” and “addiction” as a result of “too much” screen time, game time and/or access to social media can be frightening. We want to protect our kids. How do we do that without going on complete lockdown? Take a practical approach for starters.

“[We need to] treat social media and technology more like a public health issue where we all have a role in promoting healthier living, free of judgment and fear,” says Homayoun. Asking kids open-ended questions without judgment helps them keep things real and honest. Based on what you’re getting from them and your own feelings about screen time (with expert guidelines above) can help you determine a plan that works for all of you. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan but there are moderate ways to make sure your family gets the time they need on and offline to have a more rounded life. Of course, your Circle device can free you of the day-to-day management of a plan by automating any limits and rewards.

“When we help kids understand that they have a choice, and they feel competent to make good decisions, and they feel a sense of belonging in their school and greater community, they are more intrinsically motivated to make healthier smarter choices,” adds Homayoun.


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