Posts Tagged ‘ screen time limits ’

5 Guidelines for Establishing Summer Screen Time Limits

Friday, July 19th, 2013

With summer in full swing, routines in flux, and a more relaxed attitude, screen time can be a challenge especially when screens include the television, computer, smartphones, tablets, and gaming done on the family TV and also mobile devices. Ensuring that your child has a well rounded summer that includes use of their favorite media along with a healthy dose of outside time combined with keeping up academics to prevent the infamous summer slide can be a challenge.

If you’re finding that your kids are taking advantage of lazy summer days with too much screen time, here are five things to do to establish guidelines between now and the time school starts to create digital wellness in your home.

Unplug and have a talk about the various devices in your home and what they think is an appropriate amount of screen time. Depending on the age of your children, this is a time limit that you may choose to set on your own or one to negotiate with your older children.  Regardless, they’re more likely to comply if they’re involved in the conversation rather than having the gauntlet laid down and screens taken away.

Figure out how you want to allocate screen time. For some families, a daily limit works best while others prefer to evaluate time in front of screens over the course of a week. Also consider whether screen time will happen all at once or if it should be happen during different times of the day.

Pull out the timer. Some devices have built in timers that are helpful but a kitchen timer can be helpful for everyone in the house. A parent’s desire to sit down and take “just 5 minutes” to send a “quick” work email can turn into much longer just as easily as a child’s cry of “10 more minutes ple-ase!”

Set a good example.  If you don’t want your kids playing on their handheld gaming devices all the time, find a way to disconnect too.  Our kids how see how much we rely on our Blackberries and iPhones and while it may be a necessity for work and difficult to avoid checking email while in their presence, being able to put down our smartphones demonstrates that we don’t need to be in front of screens all the time either.

Be flexible. Realize that the guidelines that you establish at home aren’t set in stone. After spending long hot day outside at camp or at the pool, it may be beneficial to cool off on the couch in front of a movie. When traveling long distances by air or car, it’s often helpful to give kids some extra screen time to make the time pass faster.

The bottom line is that every family is different. Figure out what’s best for your family to achieve a healthy balance of screen time this summer and beyond.

Chinese boy using tablet while lying on bed via Shutterstock

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Preparing New Electronic Devices for Kids

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Chances are if your family unwrapped a new device over the holidays, you’ve already spent some time setting it up before relinquishing control but is that gadget really child-friendly? Chances are that just taking the new gaming system, tablet, e-Reader, smartphone, or laptop out of the box and charging it isn’t quite enough. Once the conversation about screen time and when it is and isn’t ok to be playing on these new devices has occurred with your kids, parents should run down this checklist to ensure that the new technology that has come into their homes over the holidays is ready.

New laptop? Your child probably knows to not share their passwords, click on suspicious content, or use the camera to chat with strangers but it never hurts to remind them while also installing antivirus protection and internet security tools. Antivirus and internet security software works to scan the computer to prevent harmful viruses that often work to harvest personal data. Both types of software can be downloaded online for free from companies such as AVG who provide protection for PCs. If you purchase software, please be aware that software licenses expire after their term and need to be renewed to continue your protection.

New Xbox, WiiU, PlayStation Vita, PS3, or other gaming system? It’s going to be hard to wrestle away the controllers to check parental controls while your kids are awake but it’s a necessary step. Often times the default settings of gaming systems are overly general. It’s worth logging in and creating a parent account. Xbox allows parents to set up different profiles for kids where games are restricted based on Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) game ratings. It’s also important to know who your child is playing games with. Since many gaming systems allow for players to connect across the internet, they could be playing their favorite game with their friends or complete strangers. Have some conversations about safe gaming and if you need tips, the Get Game Smart website provides useful information for families.

New iPad?  The wealth of educational apps available for an iPad makes it a highly coveted and engaging device for kids of all ages but be sure to purchase a sturdy case that will protect it on all sides. The magnetic covers available through Apple are slim and convenient but parents should look for a case that fully wraps the edges from bumps, nicks, and scratches. Take some time to look at the iPad settings to determine what features you want disabled when your kids are playing apps. There has been a lot of chatter about the kinds of information app manufacturers may be collecting about kids as they use apps so be sure to go into each app and manually set restrictions if needed so you’re not providing too much information about your family unknowingly.

New smartphone? Talk to your kids about who is going to pay for text and data overages for their new cell phone. A new smartphone is exciting and chances are that one of the first things a new user will do is text or share the news of their device via social networks with friends. Unless you’ve gotten your child the pricey unlimited data plan, it’s important to have a conversation about exactly how many texts can be sent and how often they should be using the data plan to access online content with their phone. Understanding data plans is tricky especially since no one really thinks about how many megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB) of data are being used to send or read email, stream music, view websites, post photos to social networks, or watch video content online. The Citizen’s Utility Board provides this handy Guide to Cell Phone Data Plans and breaks down what a megabyte and gigabyte are along with how much data is needed. My advice is to start conservatively when it comes to a data plan. It’s often easier to upgrade rather than downgrade your plan.

New Kindle Fire? These robust digital products are so much more than eReaders. Since Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD are highly functional tablets that can also be used to read books, enable Kindle Free Time. Kindle Free Time grants unlimited reading but restricts daily screen time, prevents kids from accessing certain categories such as videos and games, disable web browsing, and the ability to purchase content. It’s also reassuring to look over at a child with their Kindle and know that the Free Time feature is working when the background of the screen is blue, rather than the usual black.

Vector black electronic devices icons set on gray via Shutterstock

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The Importance of Communicating Online & Mobile Safety Rules to Caregivers

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

I always thought that my husband and I made our rules pretty clear when it came to screen time use in our home. Babysitters and grandparents knew that our kids weren’t to be on the computer unsupervised. They needed to ask permission before using gaming systems. Screen time limits apply to the total amount of time spent on all devices with screens. But we never thought that the rules outside our home would be any different when our children were staying with grandparents who knew our house rules.

We were wrong.

After coming home from a solo trip to their grandparents, our then 7-year-old daughter told us about their weekend. She had some burning questions about the sheep her grandmother was raising and together they looked on Google for the answers. Our daughter then proceeded to tell us that she stayed on the computer and continued to Google without her grandmother.

A seven-year-old on Google alone is never a good idea.

There are too many opportunities for misspellings of search terms that could lead to inappropriate content for young eyes. I thought the grandparents in our kids’ lives knew this since it was a house rule that they aren’t to be left unsupervised on the computer for this very reason.

This taught us a lesson.

The rules in our house for our kids were not the same when the walked out the door and went elsewhere. While grandparents know now that the same rules apply, our kids are older. They’re going to play dates at friends’ houses where they’re using the computer unsupervised and while I can’t control what goes on in their friends’ houses, I can only hope that our kids exercise good judgment about appropriate content and balancing out screen time with other activities when they’re with their friends.

How do you ensure that your children remain safe online and through mobile devices even when they’re not with you?

Young girl with headset and using the laptop computer via Shutterstock.

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Unplug During Screen Free Week April 30-May 1

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

If you’ve ever needed a reason to re-evaluate your family’s screen time, The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood’s Screen Free Week provides the perfect opportunity.

From April 30-May 1, Screen Free Week encourages all families to “spend seven days turning of entertainment screen media and turning on life.”  This annual celebration encourages unplugging from televisions, iPads, smartphones, handheld gaming devices, computers, etc. By reducing dependence on screens, organizers hope that families will take time to “unplug and play, read, daydream, create, explore, and spend more time with family and friends.”

This annual event resulted from research that concluded “children spend far too much time in front of screens: an astonishing average of 32 hours a week for preschoolers and even more for older children.  Time with screens is linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, attention issues and other health and social problems.”

While completely disconnecting from all forms of screens can be harsh, Screen Free Week can be a time to talk about your family’s screen time.  Creating conversations can be a healthy way to evaluate the role that screens play. Talking about what your child sees on a screen, how they feel when they play video games, or spend too much time on the computer may be a better solution than completely cutting off screen time.

Talking about how much time you spend with screens and can be helpful in having your child aid you in establishing family limits on gaming.  Consider discussing alternatives to the ways screens may be involved in your lives and take this time to learn from your children by using these conversation starters:

  • What might be we be missing when we’re watching a DVD in the car?  Talk about appreciating the changing seasons and scenery or the kinds of games that you can play in the car such as old school license plate bingo.
  • Going out to dinner is family time.  What can we do at a restaurant instead of looking at a screen?  Steer the discussion towards events that occurred during the day, create conversation around the menu, or play a game of tic tac toe.
  • Talk about favorite television shows.  Figure out if there’s a way to limit watching in a reasonable way or sit down with your child to learn more about what they are watching on the television.
  • Discuss favorite online websites or games.  Have them teach you about them and then play with them.
  • If you feel guilty about the amount of time you spend on your smartphone, ask your kids what they think. Do they notice? Do they mind? How can you work together towards a solution?

What other ideas do you have for creating conversations about periodically disconnecting and spending time as a screen-free household? 

Woman holding black Euro plug via ShutterStock

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