Screen Time Survival Guide

School’s back in session, and the battle over screen time begins once again. You explain that leading a balanced life and getting good grades are the key to success. Your kids counterargue that teen pros are making millions at Fortnite, and popstars like Billie Eilish launched their careers on YouTube. The following tips will help you balance your family’s screen time without going insane.

It’s a School Night

The first thing you should do is set hard limits during the school week. According to the American Heart Association, school-aged children and teens should spend no more than two hours a day in front of screens. The easiest way to set limits is to use a good old-fashioned kitchen timer. Remind your children that screen time is a privilege, and once the timer goes off, it’s time to turn off the device. You also can take a more direct approach by setting parental controls. If you own an Android phone, go to the Family Link app to set time limits or lock the device when it is bedtime. Parents with iPads and iPhones can go to Screen Time under Settings to set up limits. The PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch all make it easy for parents to limit play time, as well as block mature content or disable in-game chat.

Set Up Safeguards

As I mentioned before, Apple and Android have excellent built-in tools for blocking inappropriate content. You should also set up child-appropriate accounts for Netflix and YouTube, and, given that teens tend to be tech savvy, you may want to consider a monitoring service. Qustodio is easy to set up and lets you see everything your teen is doing on his phone and online. Not only can you view teens’ activity on Facebook, Instagram, and other popular social media sites, but you also can get a full list of his calls and texts. Qustodio also provides location tracking and a way for your child to send panic alerts. The basic service costs $55 a year for monitoring five devices, but there is a free trial. 

Create Screen-Free Zones

Child development experts recommend making the dinner table a device-free zone. This includes turning off the TV, so that everyone can focus on sharing a meal. Put the devices away an hour before bedtime so kids have time to wind down and do some reading. Keep smartphones charging somewhere beside your teen’s bedroom so that alerts don’t disturb his sleep. Another great idea is to have screen-free afternoons during the weekend. Whether you go on a hike or visit a museum, just plan an activity where everyone can put away their phones.

Watch Your Own Screen Habits

It’s impossible to teach your kids good screen habits when you check Twitter every other minute. A 2018 Nielsen Poll showed that American adults spend nearly half the day in front of screens and 45 minutes a day checking social media. You can track your phone usage by enabling Apple’s Screen Time or Google’s Digital Wellbeing. Both features will show you how much time you spend on your phone, what apps you use the most, and how often you check your device. You just might find the need to set up your own screen limits. Just remember to be mindful and present when you’re with your kids.

Relax (A Little)

A final word of advice would be to stop feeling guilty about a little screen time. I spent countless hours playing at the arcade and watching terrible videos on MTV. Yet I grew up to be a responsible adult with a good career and family life. Give yourself some slack, if you’re making a conscious effort to curb screen usage and protect your kids from the wrong content and people.

is the managing editor of 425 magazine. Email her.
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