By DQ Team 03/23/2018
Topics: Screen Time Management, Parenting Tips, DQ TOP Rules, DQ Parents’Handbook
Have you ever wondered if your daughter may be spending too much time in front of her iPad? Or, have you noticed that your son gets a little too distracted by YouTube while he’s supposed to be finishing his homework? Perhaps you’ve heard about the debate around screen time and found yourself wondering, “Is this really something I need to be concerned about?” Don’t fret, you’re definitely not alone.
As more games and services get mediated through online platforms, our digital devices are increasingly offering us a myriad of opportunities – from playing games, to reading books, to connecting with our friends and family; it is unsurprising to find ourselves constantly glancing at our screens and racking up our “screen time”.
Not just among adults, children have been increasingly spending more time on screen-based activities as well; yet research indicates that this generation of digital natives are growing up insufficiently supported by parental supervision for their developmental needs. While this is a cause for concern, merely counting hours fails to distinguish between the variety of activities children engage in online; and is thus less revealing for where the gaps in active mediation may lie. As such, in our research, we have defined screen time as the “amount of time spent on digital media for entertainment only”. This definition excludes time spent on homework, research, or other activities that focus primarily on the intellectual and social development of a child.
When it comes to the effects of screen time, recent research has been instrumental in our understanding of possible psychological, physical, and socioemotional influences on our children. For example, excessive screen time has been positively associated with psychological ill-being in youths1 such as depression and anxiety2. In addition, researchers have shown an association between screen time among adolescents and obesity and diabetes3. Finally, there are indicators that excessive screen time displaces other types of healthy activities – such as sleep and physical activities4.
Another trend that has emerged recently is the tendency for children and adolescents to participate in multiple activities at once. Yet, research on multitasking has found that splitting our attention between two activities only leads to less information processed by our brains. Adolescents who favour multitasking tend to suffer academically, have poorer social skills, report problems with their concentration, and have increased anxiety5.
Confronted by these fears, one question that we’re always asked in our DQ Parents’ and Teachers’ Workshops is this: as a parent and caregiver who is reliant on technology myself, how can I develop healthy screen time management habits for my family?
If you’ve found yourself facing this question, try coming at the issue through these three simple steps:
1. Talk – What is your child doing online?
Identify how much time your child spends in front of screens each week and get a feel for the quality of their screen time. Consider the following:
- Are they using digital devices for entertainment purposes – like playing Warcraft: Orcs & Humans or watching Game of Thrones?
- If you think that your child spends most of their time on activities purely for entertainment, start the conversation with these questions: what do they like about this activity? Can they should you how to play? More importantly, do they think that they are spending too long on it? These questions can help your child to reflect on whether their online activities are affecting their engagement with other important tasks such as their homework and household chores.
2. Obey – Establish some rules around screen time
Set some simple and basic screen time rules! Together with your children – establish a schedule for screen time. The key to this tip is to co-create rules. With our “What’s Your DQ” Parent’s Handbook , you and your child can commit to these family rules through a Screen Time Pledge. By establishing rules together and committing to them as a family, your child can understand and appreciate why such goals are beneficial for them.
Here are some tips for you to get started:
- Turn off phones and computers when reading or completing school assignments
- Turn off digital devices 60 minutes before bed
- If your child enjoys online gaming, try the “3-2-1 rule”:
- Play games less than 3 times a week
- Limit total screen time to less than 2 hours a day
- Play games for less than 1 hour a day
- Set an alarm or timer to monitor the duration of their screen time – when time’s up, allow your child to switch off or handover their devices themselves: this allows them to build discipline in their screen time management habits and provides them to a sense of responsibility and autonomy
3. Play – Spend a day out with your family!
It is important to encourage your child to engage in non-screen-based activities – this will help reduce their reliance on screen-based activities for social support and entertainment. To do this, try coming up with fun activities that appeal to you and your family.
- Try having a “tech-free” space or day, where all family members commit to leaving their devices at the door (metaphorically or literally!) and spend time together playing family-fun games, or going outdoors for a day at the beach.
- Use an offline activity as a reward for everyone following family screen time rules – for example, if the entire family follows these rules for one month, visit the amusement park at the end of the month!
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the barrage of online content available to you and your child, just remember the 3 C’s:
- Context – where, when, and how your child is accessing their digital media;
- Content – what is being used or watched;
- Connections – whether your child’s social relationships with their family and friends are being hindered or facilitated.
Alternatively, try these additional tips from MLC, or read reviews from Common Sense Media or Teachers with Apps as a starting point. It doesn’t have to be complicated: the basic building blocks of any good habit involves honesty, open communication, and a willingness to change.
The next time you find yourself wondering if your child is spending too much time on YouTube, try using these three steps to brainstorm ideas with your family to establish some ground rules.
This is the second in a series of 9 posts that the DQ Institute is publishing for parents and caretakers to help you get started on inculcating healthy and responsible digital habits for you and your family. If you found the tips from this article helpful, you can find more in our previous post about Internet Parenting Styles. Otherwise, check back next month, where we’ll be suggesting some simple tips for your family to manage your privacy and personal data online.
1. Costigan, S. A., Barnett, L., Plotnikoff, R. C., & Lubans, D. R. (2013). The health indicators associated with screen-based sedentary behavior among adolescent girls: a systematic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 52(4), 382-392; Carson, V., Hunter, S., Kuzik, N., Gray, C. E., Poitras, V. J., Chaput, J. P., … & Kho, M. E. (2016). Systematic review of sedentary behaviour and health indicators in school-aged children and youth: an update. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(6), S240-S265; Muusses, L. D., Finkenauer, C., Kerkhof, P., & Billedo, C. J. (2014). A longitudinal study of the association between compulsive internet use and wellbeing. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 21-28.
2. Cao, H., Qian, Q., Weng, T., Yuan, C., Sun, Y., Wang, H., & Tao, F. (2011). Screen time, physical activity and mental health among urban adolescents in China. Preventive medicine, 53(4-5), 316-320; Kremer, P., Elshaug, C., Leslie, E., Toumbourou, J. W., Patton, G. C., & Williams, J. (2014). Physical activity, leisure-time screen use and depression among children and young adolescents. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 17(2), 183-187.
3.Maras, D., Flament, M. F., Murray, M., Buchholz, A., Henderson, K. A., Obeid, N., & Goldfield, G. S. (2015). Screen time is associated with depression and anxiety in Canadian youth. Preventive medicine, 73, 133-138.
4. Babic, M. J., Smith, J. J., Morgan, P. J., Eather, N., Plotnikoff, R. C., & Lubans, D. R. (2017). Longitudinal associations between changes in screen-time and mental health outcomes in adolescents. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 12, 124-131.
5. Cheever, N. A., Peviani, K., & Rosen, L. D. (2018). Media Multitasking and Mental Health. In Technology and Adolescent Mental Health (pp. 101-112). Springer, Cham.