Discussing healthy family screen time is kinda like talking about limiting your chocolate ice cream intake. You know it’s probably good for your health, but it just feels so good to avoid any limitations. If setting boundaries for screen time is something you struggle with you aren’t alone. Parents, kids, grandparents, and everyone else has trouble setting healthy boundaries.
In this article I’ll go through a few best practices when it comes to your screen time.
What is Healthy Screen Time?
First up we need to determine if your current screen time is actually unhealthy. If your first reaction was “no way! not me” then you might need to keep reading. No one likes to admit they have a bad or unhealthy habit. I certainly don’t like admitting the number of cookies I can eat in one sitting.
Unhealthy screen habits, which can lead to screen addiction, might be tough for you to spot, so listen to friends and family. If the people around you are commenting that you spend more time on your phone than enjoying real life, you might have a problem. If your first instinct the second your mind wanders is to grab your phone, you might have a problem. Find that you’ve reviewed all the updates in your social media feed going back two weeks and you’re still wanting more? You might have a problem.
Like any problem the first step is admitting you have an issue. Either by your own assessment or that of your peers you’ve decided your screen time is unhealthy. It’s important to catch it early. As a parent your kids will look up to you. If the example you set is that your face must always be buried in a phone your kids can and will copy that behavior. Monkey see, monkey do.
So what does healthy screen time look like? It involves using the screen when it’s good for your family. This could be looking up an attraction on Yelp or a new recipe. All great reasons to be on your device!
Healthy habits also help you meet your personal needs. Mobile banking has helped many people manage their finances and make sure bills are paid on time. I’ll even venture to say a bit of social media can be good for folks.
It’s important for a family to discuss healthy screen habits together. Your kids can’t be expected to pick this information up at school or from friends. Parents have to have the tough conversation and lead by example. Here are some tips for parents looking to address health screen time with their kids.
Steps to Practicing Healthy Family Screen Time
Show Them the Way
Step 1 I’ve already hit on a bit and that is leading by example. How you use your devices sends a strong message to your kids. Much stronger than any words that come out of your mouth. If you are on your phone throughout dinner don’t be surprised if/when your kids do the same. The message you send is that the phone, or other device, is extremely important and can take priority over others.
This isn’t to say that is exactly how you feel. Most dads wouldn’t say they love their phone more than family. However, perception is reality so be sure you don’t give your kids the wrong idea about what is important.
It could be fun to gamify your screen time. Find a tracking app (be sure to vet first to ensure the app is legit!) and track your screen usage. Have your family do the same and make a game of it to see who has the best habits. The next week you can see who has the most improvement.
Seek to Understand
Understanding your child as a technology user is Step 2. When I was a kid you were still a nerd or geek if you played on a computer more than a football field. Times were different back then. Nowadays we love nothing more than to read about some teenager who created a cool new app. Speaking with your child and understanding what type of tech user they are (gamer, coder, etc.) can help you set reasonable boundaries. It also gives you an excellent opportunity to discuss proper cyber security practices.
Share High Quality Content
Step 3 is all about content. Now that you’ve taken time to understand what type of tech user your child is, you can share relevant content. Find articles, apps, tutorials, YouTube videos and other resources that compliment their interest. You can also share resources that help reinforce what they are learning in school.
This is an excellent chance to help explain how to use the internet to find reliable information. With deep fakes becoming more prevalent telling real from fake is tough for the best of us. Teaching your kids how to fact check and use trustworthy sources will be invaluable later in life.
Back to Step #1, you can set a good example by explaining how you select the content you consume. The fact you’re reading Nerdy Dads means you’re likely already a pro at finding the best content on the internet 😉
Enjoy some screen time with your kids by helping research reports or go head-to-head in your favorite game is Step 4. I’ve previously written about how fathers can use technology to connect with their children. The world wide web can be an exciting place, so explore it together!
You can also use the web to introduce your children to new hobbies. Getting your kids excited about new things can be a challenge. Showing them videos of other children having fun with tech can be an encouragement. Best of all is that it comes from other kids, so it must be cool! If your good with your hands it might be fun to explore the maker movement with your child. Tons of projects can be found online and you don’t have to break the bank to get started.
Set Realistic Boundaries
Tell your kid they can’t do something and they will bend over backwards to do it anyways. Step 5, involves having direct and logical conversations as to what is and is not acceptable. Explain why you want them to develop good habits. If you had to break bad habits yourself use that as an example. In addition to good screen habits you should also discuss how to protect your personal information. What is ok to share and what should remain confidential can be a fine line. Make sure that line is super clear for your kids.
While I don’t advocate a free for all approach I do encourage other dads to be understanding that some screen time is necessary. Kids don’t head to the library or dig out an encyclopedia to do research these days. Almost all school projects will require some computer work. However, entire weekend binges of WoW shouldn’t be considered research. If, however, that is a real assignment then please let me know what class I should’ve signed up for!
Discussing rules regarding healthy family screen time can help your kids understand what is expected of them. It might also help you realize some of your own bad habits that need to be kicked. Now close the browser, adjust your eyes to the natural light, and go have a fun chat with the family!