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  • Writer's picturePaula Robertson

Managing screen time at home

Tips for taking back control of our digital devices in the home




One thing about the COVID 19 pandemic is that it made us more comfortable with the digital world. We used it to connect with our loved ones, to access learning and education, to work virtually and to keep up to date. There is no doubt that the internet has been a valuable resource…but as with all things, there needs to be balance. We know there is a dark side to the digital world too. There have been reports of increased mental health and self-esteem concerns in young people linked to social media usage, and I often speak with parents who complain that their kids seem to be hooked on their devices, disconnected from family interactions and reluctant to get physically active and engaged.

Here are some tips for achieving more digital balance and safety in our lives, particularly in the post-COVID era:


Find ways to unplug. Taking a digital detox can be a great way to recalibrate and balance. Perhaps you could start by switching off the devices for an evening and pulling out board games for a Family Games Night or, if you want to go a step further, maybe even a digital-free weekend out in nature.


Switch off devices before bed. Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. Digital devices often emit blue light which interferes with our body’s natural sleep-wake cycles and disturbs the quality of our sleep. One suggestion is to get in the habit of setting an alarm to remind us to wind down and switch off in preparation for bed, and take off devices an hour before going to sleep. Ideally, devices should also not be charged in the bedroom, so have a designated charge point outside the bedroom area…and have this as a family rule.


Set a contract with youngsters in the home. I am a big fan of the digital contract: a drawn up contract between parent and young person outlining the agreed limits of digital use – for example, when devices are switched off, where they are charged, and the number of agreed hours of recreational screen time per day. A great example of a downloadable digital contract can be found at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/fmp/Pages/MediaPlan.aspx.


Monitor your children’s media usage. Do get actively involved by watching programs or content with them and discussing values. Stand your ground on not allowing them to view material that is not age appropriate – use movie and TV ratings to help guide you. Be mindful also of your children’s media diet – what material they are viewing and absorbing. Look for media choices that are creative and educational or teach content and interpersonal skills in line with your own family’s values. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for very young children (especially those under two), we put the focus more on unstructured play and human interaction rather than screen time. In early childhood, learning to think creatively, problem solve, communicate socially and develop reasoning and motor skills is much more important for the developing brain than passive media intake. So put aside the device and get outdoors as much as possible!


Model the behaviours you want to see. Our children are always watching us, so it’s important as parents to model healthy behaviours around digital device usage. A great start is to designate screen free times, for example family meal times where no one is allowed to bring a device to the table. Having digital-free family meal times has been shown to have lots of benefits such as improved connection, and less mindless eating in front of our technology (which has been linked to obesity).


Teach children to be good digital citizens. It’s important to discuss with children and young people the need to also be good citizens online…being mindful of their digital footprint, practicing digital safety and calling out cyberbullying, for example. Commonsensemedia.org is a great website that provides tools to help parents and teachers with this: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/


This is a work in progress, but taking proactive steps to achieve more digital balance in our lives will reap lots of lifelong health benefits.


Be well,

Paula



Dr Paula Robertson is a mom and paediatrician with over twenty years’ experience working with children and young people. You can find out more at www.paulathedoctormom.com


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