Screen Time

Today’s parents were the first to be raised in a media-saturated world. Twenty years later there are video games, DVD re-releases, Web pages, and more. Because we’re used to media, and because it triggers memories and emotions, it can be tough to know how much is too much. Our kids, however, are exposed to information and images we never imagined. It’s up to us to help them manage it wisely. Here are some strategies:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Turn it off. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for babies under age 2.
    • Watch what they watch. When you pop in a movie or turn on a show, sit down with your kids and watch. If you see things that surprise you or make you uncomfortable, turn it off or choose a different option next time.
    • parents with children 6 to 9
    • Practice noticing and pointing out the difference between ads and shows. This can be surprisingly difficult for kids.
    • Set limits and consequences that take the pressure off of you. It’s much easier this way to keep the peace — “No TV on school nights,” or “When the timer goes off, the machine goes off or no more computer time this weekend.” Or develop an exchange system whereby children get a certain number of points per week that they can use for screen time. Unused points can be traded in for something else.
    • Visit a library and check out audio books that you can listen to together, or that your child can listen to on a personal headset. This can be a great alternative to DVD players in the car.
    • parents with children 10 to 15
    • Always check the ratings of computer games and programs. Restrict their choices to games that do not include inappropriate “adult” content such as sex, violence, or crude language and material.
    • Establish a Friday Family Film Fest or another fun ritual based on watching a film or show together. Take turns making the selection or planning some other aspect of the event.
    • Talk with your kids about Internet safety rules such as never giving out personal information, or facts about friends or family members.
    • parents with children 16 to 18
    • Keep all screens in public areas such as a family room or office. Occasionally take a peek at what your child is watching, playing, or writing.
    • Be willing to be the “bad guy.” Even if your teens say that everyone else has computers in their rooms and everyone else’s parents let them see R-rated movies, know that at this point it’s more important for you to be their parent than it is for you to be their friend.
  • Expose yourselves to alternative media by checking out some unique movie options such as an IMAX theater or a local film fest.

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