Screen Time for Preteens: How to Set Limits

Aside from sleeping, media use is the leading activity for kids and teens today, who spend more time with screens than in school. These screens are everywhere all at once - TV, phones, iPads, video games - and while they can be fun and educational, studies have also found negative impacts. With every extra hour of unmonitored screen time, children become less imaginative, less able to focus or recognize human emotions, less able to sleep normally, more physically unhealthy, more aggressive and worse students.

Though it's not realistic to ban all use of screen technology, especially since school work is often done online or with computers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only 1-2 hours of entertainment screen time a day. You can use the following tips to help your family set a usage plan for your child's screen time:

Set the Scene

  • Talk to your kids - Be open about your concerns and why you are setting the rules you are. Understanding why you have concerns about screen time is crucial to teaching your kids to regulate themselves someday. And it is important for them to be aware of some of the negative aspects of electronics and the internet, such as violence in games and movies, bullying and sexting in social media, before they encounter them. If you are the one talking to them about these things, you have a better chance of being the person they talk to when they encounter them.
  • Make rules and stick to them - Set certain days, hours or conditions for entertainment screen time, and do not let it interfere with homework time.
  • Do not allow TVs or internet-capable technologies in your child's room - Keep them in common areas where you can see what they are looking at and when.
  • Do not permit screen time during meals or before bedtime - Use these times to talk about everyone's day instead.
  • Understand that not all screen time is the same - Playing videogames for an hour is different from video-chatting with Grandma for an hour. Watching TV is different from writing a story on a computer. Discuss these differences when setting screen time rules at home.
  • Have your child help come up with fair rules for using technology - Write them down, have everyone sign it, and post it where everyone can see. This will help your kids learn to monitor themselves.
  • Don't Use Screen Time as Reward or Punishment - Practices like this make TV/devices seem even more important to children.
  • Be ready to explain different screen-time limits - After your kids have watched hours of TV at a friend’s house, they may wonder why your rules are different. These are opportunities to have conversations with your kids about what your family’s values are.
  • Encourage variety - While you want to limit the overall screen time, also watch that your kids aren't obsessing over one game or always on a particular social media platform or sitting in the couch in front of the TV all day.

Do Your Part

  • Watch TV and movies together. Talk about what you're seeing and how it compares to what the family's values are.
  • Talk to your child about cyberbullying. Discuss the inappropriate things to text and receive.
  • Use technology to change behaviors. Record the TV shows your child wants to watch so they are not just flipping channels endlessly when they're bored. Use the pause button on the screen so you can talk about what you're watching together. Get fitness videos or video games and have everyone join in. Audiobooks are also great ways to use media and the imagination at the same time.
  • Monitor the data plan you have for your family. Make it clear to your child that you are watching the phone and internet bills and content.
  • Educate yourself. As a parent, you need to be familiar with social media sites your kids are interested in and how they work, and what experts say about ratings for TV, movies and games. Common Sense Media has more than 8,000 reviews of a range of media: movies, TV programs, music, videos, Web sites, books and magazines. Reviewers are looking at media from a child development perspective. See common sense media.
  • Learn to say no. If your child has nightmares after seeing a scary movie, or whines that all their friends get to play a game that you know has a lot of violent or sexual content in it, repeat your rules and why they are in place. Don't feel pressured to let your kid do something because you think "other parents do," or they're "old enough."

And... Action!

  • Get fit. From a favorite team sport, to a dance practice, to just jogging in the neighborhood, your child needs physical activity to stay happy and healthy. Let them pick something they're interested in and stick to it.
  • Get your child to participate in the community. Regular volunteer work or club activity will build an appreciation for helping people.
  • Set a good example for your kids. They might not listen to you if you say, "Put that phone away at the table," but they REALLY won't listen if you're texting too.

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