Screen time for kids is a major part of daily life. A study last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that three-fourths of children as young as four already have their own mobile devices. This might sound shocking to some, but probably not to most parents. Kids today use these devices for everything from playing games or staying in touch with friends on social media to doing research for school assignments.
At any age, kids benefit from guidance about how to use time spent on their devices productively—not necessarily to exclude gaming or visiting approved social media sites, but to strike a healthy balance.
How can you help elementary and middle-school kids better use their time on mobile devices?
- Encourage kids to use the Internet to do good
- Keep technology out in the open
- Teach kids to use good judgement—even when you’re not around
- Set limits as a family, and hold one another accountable
- Build an online peer group for giving and volunteering
- Try the 25/10 rule with screen time for kids
Connie Albers, Speaker, Home Education Expert, @ConnieLAlbers
I like to tie in two pieces to this. One is that students need to learn their time is limited, so we want it to be productive. So what I did was I took 10 pennies; each penny represented 30 minutes. They were given 10 pennies a week. Initially I allowed them to spend them however they wanted, and by Tuesday they were gone—so they realized that wasn’t working, because they had to go the rest of the week with no screen time. So they quickly learned, if I use two pennies a day, that gives me an hour, and then I’m able to stay connected, right?
The other element when it comes to being productive is that once they understand their time is important and they only have so much they can do with it, let’s now teach them to be engaged in the community and to do good with social media. Because let’s face it: technology and social media can be a wonderful opportunity to teach these tweens and young people that they can make a difference. I suggest they find a cause—something they’re passionate about, either in their community or their school—and then spend some of their time promoting an event, creating an event or creating awareness. So that’s how I teach them time management and how to use it for something that is beneficial to the community.
Natalie Cabinda, author of Regroup. Refocus. Rebuild: Helping Families Navigate from Breakups to Breakthroughs, @CabindaNatalie
I think parents absolutely need to keep technology out of children’s rooms, especially if they are not home to supervise and see what children are doing. I know parents have crazy schedules, and it’s almost impossible sometimes to supervise their children. But going into kids’ rooms and making sure there is nothing that distracts them from schoolwork is extra important.
I also emphasize family time. That’s when parents can sit down with their kids and talk about the importance of technology and what kids should be doing or not be doing during certain times. If parents can limit the amount of time that children have online, they will be more constructive in terms of working on schoolwork.
Mercedes Samudio, Parent Coach
One of the tips that I really love—especially because more and more schools are bringing technology into their educational environment—is to begin to guide and teach children how to use technology as opposed to just restricting it or taking it away. It’s about really teaching our kids how to be digital natives and learn how to use it in a really healthy way. Even if we can’t always supervise them, if we teach how to think critically about the time they’re spending and the things they’re doing online, then even when we’re not around they’ll be better able to make healthy decisions.
Andrea Gribble, Author of The VonAwesome Family in a Digital Daze, @AndreaGribble
I’m a mom of two, and my husband has four boys, so when we’re all together we’re a modern-day “Brady Bunch.” When I was talking to middle schoolers about being safe and kind online, I realized my own kids needed to be talked to. So I went and looked for a children’s book. I couldn’t find one, so I decided to write one. My children’s book really tackles finding a technology balance in the home.
Your guests have shared great rules, like not letting the devices get into the bedroom, and maybe setting time limits using pennies; I love that. The key is to write those down, and what we love to do is actually sign our rules list (free template here) and put it up on the refrigerator, where everyone in the family—kids too—are involved in setting the limits. Then everyone in the family should help hold one another accountable. So if your first grader catches dad on his cell phone at the dinner table, that first grader should say, “Hey dad, we made a rule that we weren’t going to have those at the table. We should really work to keep those rules.”
James Emry, Author of Positive-ly Uncertain, @JamesEmry
Using social media to become a part of something bigger is wonderful, and a great way to make that a regular habit is to bring in some social support behind it. Parents tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to technology and apps, and there are some that are a little scary. But you can also cultivate a passion for volunteer work by involving your peer groups and connecting with like-minded people.
There’s a recent app I’ve fallen in love with called Nobly, and it’s like a Twitter for random acts of kindness, volunteer work you do and so forth. You connect with friends, share with them, and they can support you in whatever you’re doing. It can all rally around a certain thing that you really have a passion for. That’s the way to keep the coals burning and keep the kids incentivized on their phone. It also helps to counteract what people are calling FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. That’s a big thing with social media these days, because people tend to put their “highlight reel” on Facebook and Twitter, and you only see their best aspects. Nobody puts the bad day they had, so it’s not good for the mind of adolescents. So instead of always thinking, “Everybody else has an awesome life,” this is a way to say, “Oh, this other person supports charities.” And it makes it more of a normative action and normative behavior that people are going to emulate.
Natalie Andreas, Digital Consultant, @NatalieBid
What I see working really well whether at home or in the classroom is balancing out the digital experience for teens and kids, but not necessarily making it, “Okay, here’s your screen time, and now you have to stop” experience. I certainly think kids should be outside and having a great time there, but what can work well when they’re working on a project or doing a big research assignment or a book report using the Internet is giving them 25 minutes to work really hard and then saying, you know what? For 10 minutes, you can play this game with your friends, or you can be on this specific social media site. It’s okay to have fun online as long as you get your schoolwork done as well. So when you balance out 25 minutes of productivity with 10 of fun, I see kids be much more productive overall.