How much screen time is too much is a popular question these days. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends specific approaches to screen time for children age 6 and younger. These are in the interest of brain development, sleep patterns, and preventing screen addiction. However, the waters get harder to navigate a children get older and own their own smartphones and tablets, or have easy access to their parents gear.
Tech pros have weighed in on this topic in the past. Bill Gates has openly shared that he and his wife won’t let their children own smartphones until age 14. They also strictly limit screen time, especially surrounding bedtime and family meals. Steve Jobs, famously declared that he and his wife severely limited his children’s use of iPads at home. A fact that sent many journalists into a tizzy since it was expected that his household, of any in the world, would be the most iPad friendly.
However, I have to wonder, do regular parents feel the same way? And, if not, why? Should we all heed the example of the Gates family and put an age on smartphone ownership, and tackle screen time regulations after that? It would be a simple solution, but I had a feeling it isn’t necessarily the way all families felt so I dove into my local moms groups to investigate further.
I’ll admit, when I asked around I expected to hear one of two responses: households either have strict regulations, or very little at all. But what I found was that parents in our neck of the woods are mostly setting screen time regulations on a short-term basis. The rules that apply one week, might not apply the next. Getting access to the screen for most grade schoolers requires completed homework, chores, and good behavior.
After that, a lot of parents are relying on regulating apps like Kidslox, Circle, and OurPact that limit the amount of time the screen is on. Their children are aware the apps are on their devices, and the app does the dirty work of turning off the game or even shutting down the device completely. This eliminates the need for the unfun confrontation of nagging a child to turn off their device which can sometimes result in tears and frustration.
However, interestingly, parents are still relying on basic parental controls to keep their children safe when the screen is turned on. The screen time control apps don’t regulate content meaning it is still hard to know exactly what your child is doing or talking about for the amount of time they are allowed to be using their devices.
One parent in Massachusetts said her teenagers have a screen time “bank” of 30 minutes per week. They can withdraw from their bank as they want. Once they exhaust their minute balance they can negotiate for more depending on factors like schoolwork, sports, etcetera. The parents feels this teaches responsibility and also reminds her kids how quickly they can “zone out” in a screen.
The hardest part seems to be regulating screens at restaurants. A lot of parents shared that handing a rowdy kid a phone to watch some cartoons is much easier than disciplining them at the table. A quiet child eating and watching a show can make a meal-time so much more enjoyable.
All in all it seems that parents care about screen time in the same way that the tech pros do. However, the intricacies of regulating it are trickier to navigate than Bill and Steve ever alluded to when asked. Like anything, a little screen time can go a long way and most parents are aware of that.
I am curious, how do you regulate screen time in your household? Is there anything that has worked particularly well for you? Or, not well at all?