8 guidelines for managing screen use this summer


Parents should be concerned about the amount of time their kids spend using screens, especially during the summer months when kids look for easy entertainment to relieve restlessness and boredom. Studies have found 8- to 18-year-olds are using technology significantly more than the two hours per day recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Do you know how many hours your kids use screens on average? Do you know if this increases on the weekends and during vacations?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you are not alone. Many children use screens more than parents realize. Screen time tends to increase during unstructured times such as the summer. If your child is at risk for excessive summer screen use, it’s important to consider ways now to reverse that trend.

To give you a sense of where kids are today with screen use, check out these statistics:

* Almost 50 percent of all third-grade boys, on average, use screens for more than two hours per day, and that usage increases to 70 percent of boys on average by the time they reach ninth grade.

* Third-grade girls — 43 percent — use screens less when compared to boys. However, that rate jumps to surpass boys’average usage in ninth grade, when 90 percent of girls use screens more than the recommended two hours per day.

“Studies have shown that excessive screen use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity,” according to the pediatric academy’s website. “In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.”

More recently, researchers have discovered additional concerning effects, including changes in social behavior and even a disorder now called “text neck.”

Here are eight guidelines to help manage kids’ screen use this summer, and forever after.

1. Hold a family meeting where screen time is the agenda. Discuss a well-thought-out technology management plan that you can enforce. Get the kids to buy in by offering better alternatives and by discussing the downsides of too much screen time.

2. Don’t try to eliminate screen use. Stopping anything completely is like going on a fad diet. It’s bound to fail and everyone will want more of the thing they are giving up. Screen time shouldn’t be forbidden, but it should be limited.

3. Set a positive morning tone. Don’t allow screen use in the morning. Studies show that the start of the day is the most productive time. Decide on a morning agenda that may include the following: 20 minutes of summer reading, 30 pushups and sit-ups or other exercises, walking the dog, making beds, picking up rooms and doing an extra chore or two.

4. Plan daily activities. After morning responsibilities are met, give kids choices of fun activities they can do outside or that keep them creative and active (socializing with friends, going to the beach or park, playing sports, doing arts and crafts, or baking).

5. Allow screens during siesta hours. Later in the day, after the kids have been active and, or have accomplished something, is the best time to allow screen use. Decide during the family meeting to limit screen use to a couple of hours or whatever amount of time seems reasonable that you can enforce. The more kids use screens, the more they want to use screens.

6. Get comfortable with complaints of boredom. Most children, regardless of the whether they have a swimming pool, tennis court and a stable full of horses in the backyard, will complain of boredom from time to time. It’s developmental and something kids do because they want to be entertained instead of learning to entertain themselves. Boredom also allows time for kids minds to wander and for them to be naturally creative.

7. Expect initial pushback, regardless of the amount of screen time you allow, whether you follow my recommendation of two to three hours a day, or go with your own guidelines.  Children outwardly oppose limits, yet inside they crave them, so try not to react to their reaction. Instead ride out the storm and know that they will accept your authority if you commit to following through.

8. Role model. Designate screen-free zones and times that you, the parent, enforce and follow. Parents can be great roles models for limiting screen use.

In my work with hundreds of families, I’ve seen that it only takes a couple of days for children and teens adjust to having their screen time limited. The summer does not have to become a time when your child retreats into endless hours of gaming and posting. Summertime is for fun, growth and exploration. Too much screen time will result in a zoned out, lethargic, and potentially belligerent child or teen — the opposite of what is good for them and certainly not what you want for them.

For more advice on children and media from the American Academy of Pediatrics, visit https://shar.es/1JBvG8

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