Even just a couple of years ago, the message to new parents was pretty clear: Screens, for the most part, aren't good for kids, so stay away. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that kids not experience any screen time until at least age two, and then after that, they suggested keeping it very limited.
But as media becomes more and more pervasive in our everyday lives, parents have had to be more realistic about the limitations they could - and should - impose on their kids' screen time.
The AAP has relaxed its recommendations somewhat in recent years, and developed a Family Media Plan tool to help parents talk with kids about how, when and why certain limitations need to be put in place.
Parents and children should work through the plan together, discussing (and negotiating) a variety of points, including:
- Screen-free zones and times. Families choose which areas of the house, such as the kitchen table or bedroom, will be designated as screen-free zones. Likewise, which times of the day, such as before bedtime or during meals, will be screenless. They can also agree on a "device curfew", when all devices will be powered down for the night, as well as where they will be charged.
Choosing and using media. Just because it's labelled "educational" doesn't necessarily make it so. The AAP recommends using sites such as Common Sense Media for reviews on quality and age-appropriateness. Children are encouraged to "diversify" the types of media they use in order to get a variety of benefits.
In this section, parents and children can discuss the importance of not visiting new websites or downloading new apps without permission, using media that is appropriate for their age, and playing games or watching shows together as a family.
Balancing online and offline time. Screen time becomes more problematic when it displaces physical activity and face-to-face social interactions in the world.
In this section, kids and parents can discuss what activities will take priority over media-usage. These priorities can include joining a club, playing a team sport, reading, playing outside, playing board games, and developing new hobbies.
Media manners and digital citizenship. Media manners address how you'll use media in the company of others (that is, not texting while someone is speaking to you). Meanwhile, digital citizenship addresses how you will conduct yourself - and how you'll react to how others conduct themselves - in the digital world.
This is the time when parents can talk with their children about cyberbullying, the importance of respecting others' privacy, and what to do if they receive a message or a photo that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Digital safety. Saving perhaps the most important for last, in this section, families can talk about why meeting, chatting or gaming with strangers online can be dangerous, as well as the importance of not sharing personal information.
Once the media plan has been created, it can be printed and posted in a central location in the home. It can also be saved electronically to be revised occasionally as your family's needs change.