Summer time is here! While children and teens are excited to have finally reached their summer break, many parents are feeling the added pressure and stress to plan and schedule extra daily activities. Without regular school hours, most youth turn to video games, social media, video streaming services, and other digital pastimes. Increased screen time, however, is shown to be linked to anxiety and depression in youth, as well as obesity and other health problems. Additionally, excess screen time has been shown to decrease curiosity levels, focusing abilities, and overall self-regulation capacities in youth. Although many parents express concern for this increase in sedentary “screen time,” so many of them feel that they do not have an ample amount of alternatives to “fill” their child’s or teen’s time during the Summer. As such, many families turn to counselors, psychologists, physicians, schools, or other parents for guidance on knowing, “How much is too much?” when it comes to allowing your child screen time.

When speaking with families seeking guidance for this matter, our conversations tend to involve a much broader discussion than simply giving a recommended hour limit. These discussions are typically framed through the lens of helping parents model, build, and reinforce useful and sustainable life-skill, self-care, relational, and health/physical habits for their child. Essentially, aiding parents to view this as a matter of prioritizing their child’s time and activities, rather than simply implementing a time limit on their screen use. While a consistent time boundary related to screen use is helpful (and recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics), creating and establishing this boundary becomes easier once parents begin to prioritize and protect time for other daily routines, activities, relationships, and obligations for their child. Once doing this, parents find that they have a lot less time to “fill” than originally expected.

Below are tips and considerations to help guide parents and caregivers to prioritize their child’s time and activities.

  • Consider your child’s physical, sleep, and self-care needs: Many times, prolonged game play or media use cuts into a youth’s sleep time and time spent being physically active. Achieving adequate sleep and daily physical activity is paramount to your child’s development and growth. Protecting time for sleep and daily physical activities should be at the top of a parent’s list when prioritizing their child’s time. The National Sleep Foundation provides a sleep chart of the recommended hours of sleep needed by each age group, and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, outlining the recommended amount of time each age group should engage in daily physical activity. Finally, parents should always monitor that that their child is engaging in consistent and daily health and hygiene routines. Establishing an expectation that morning and hygiene routines (e.g., eating breakfast, brushing their teeth, showering, etc.) should be completed before any screen time may be helpful in reinforcing adaptive and healthy hygiene habits later on in life.
  • Consider what other relationships, activities, and obligations are being impacted (or sacrificed) by excess screen time: Every child and youth should have dedicated times for play or social opportunities with friends, and outings that consist of meaningful life experiences. These are typically the activities that parents attempt to “fill” their child’s time with during the summer (e.g., vacations, summer camps, arranged outings with friends, trips to museums or national parks, etc.), yet are also sometimes the hardest to implement due to family limitations or other logistical difficulties (i.e., finances, childcare options, transportation, etc.). However, recognizing that a youth’s daily life is filled with natural opportunities for pastimes and age-appropriate obligations is often forgotten. For example, when attempting to plan a daily schedule, many families forget to include protected family time (in addition to mealtimes), house projects which the youth can participate in, potential school obligations such as summer reading goals, or household chores to help the child build a sense of responsibility and accountability for their space. Similar to the above-mentioned hygiene routines, it is recommended that parents set the expectation that time with family and friends and completing obligations and projects should be protected and established first before considering any screen time activities.
  • What do the experts say on specific time limits: Age matters. Both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have specific time guidelines for screen time concerning children 5 and under (i.e., 1 hour or less daily, with the AAP recommending no screen time, outside video chatting, below 2-years-old). While the medical and mental health communities have looser time guidelines for children 6 and older (more emphasizing the importance of establishing consistent limitations) research studies show that even a moderate use of screens (i.e., 4 hours a day) was “associated with lower psychological well-being than use of one hour a day.” Additionally, that the risk of obesity linked with screen time begins at 1.5 to 2 hours of sedentary screen engagement.
  • Consider what you, as a parent or caregiver, are modeling to your child with your own screen use and frequency: Children and teenagers adopt their parent’s/caregiver’s own habits and life-skills. The majority of these habits are not passed down through direct conversations or discussions, but rather by parent modeling and observations by the child or teen. For example, if you model that it is okay to talk to another person while also checking your email or scrolling through social media on your phone, chances are, your child will also likely engage in the same way of interacting. Additionally, if you use screen time to passively fill down time (i.e., waiting in line at the grocery store) or perhaps to emotionally unwind (e.g., “binge watching” a show) after a long day of work, they likely will too. However, these are also opportunities to help model more adaptive emotional coping, social, or communication skills. Finally, research does show that increased parent screen time is linked to increased parent-child conflict and reduced parent-child interactions.

While this may seem like a lot to absorb and consider, there are many practical and user-friendly tools out there for parents and caregivers to help manage their family’s media use:

  • Create your own family media plan! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released this online interactive visual tool to help create your own media plan for each individual family member and has built-in functions to help a parent or caregiver to “budget” time for family, chores, physical activities, sleep, etc. This tool can also be helpful in tracking and managing screen time across family members and during shifting schedules (i.e., during the school year, weekends, academic breaks, etc.).
  • The following are resources for practical tools to help parents monitor, manage, and limit access to media platforms (even while away at work):
    • For families who use Apple phone, iPad, and computer devices, Today’s Parent released an article outlining a several helpful parental control functions to monitor and manage device use, access, and content/privacy restrictions.
    • The website, Engadget, has also outlined parental tools and apps to help parents manage screen time across Apple, Google, and Android devices, as well as parental control apps for gaming consoles (i.e., Xbox, PlayStation, and the Nintendo Switch) and managing home router/WiFi settings.

A final note, this post is meant to help our families achieve a balance in their time spent engaging in activities, relationships, and adaptive routines while integrating the fact that technology and related activities are an increasingly large part of our daily lives. It is hoped that this post will help your family create and practice a healthy and balanced “media diet.” For additional ideas or further questions, please feel free to reach out by contacting us at (303) 756-1197 or by visiting our website https://www.elevatedinsights.org/.