Eighteen months ago, our world changed. Our children were no longer able to see friends face-to-face, school became virtual, and most parents greatly relaxed their screen time rules. Now that things have opened, many parents are struggling with bringing screen time usage back into reasonable limits.

Subtracting screen time will be more difficult than it was to add it. However, it is a fight worth fighting.  Victoria Dunkley, Child Psychiatrist and author of Reset Your Child’s Brain, states that there are personality changes associated with too much screen time. Your child may become irritable or argumentative, have poor focus, be anxious or depressed and have tantrums, losing self-control. Extended screen time can deregulate the nervous system and the overstimulation results in a state of stress.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for an acceptable amount of screen time are:

  • No screen time for children under 2
  • One hour per day for children 2 to 12
  • Two hours per day for teens and adults

Dunkley recommends that parents put their children on a month-long screen fast during a time when the children can spend more time out of the house, exposed to sunlight and exercise, and then slowly reintroduce screen time. Parents should intentionally note and comment when they are using their screens. For example, I am watching this video Aunt Jane sent me of her new puppy or I am checking my email for work.

Teaching children self-regulation on screen is important.  There are several types of screen time:

  • Educational Content (could be required for school or just to research an interest)
  • Social Media
  • Games
  • Informational and Entertainment – YouTube, Reddit, TikToc
  • Movies or Videos
  • Porn or dangerous content

Have a conversation with your child and involve them in the plan for screen time. Discuss what types of screen time are allowed and what the limits are for each. Determine if you need a content monitor program or a blocker. Establish a routine, give incentives for sticking to the new plan, make sure it is age-appropriate and model the desired behavior yourself. If the rule is no screens at the dinner table or when walking outside, you should also follow the rules. During screen-free time, put the devices away in a central location where you can monitor them.

As we implement limits and go back to pre-pandemic levels of screen time, we can celebrate the good that came out of the pandemic in terms of digital literacy for our children and the connectiveness that we now have with friends and family who are not within driving distance.  We have had watch parties across the country with family and friends for favorite Halloween and Christmas movies. Grandparents have read bedtime stories to grandchildren from afar. We can celebrate what has been positive while we bring those behaviors that can harm our children into line.

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