Advise Me

Making Screen Time Family Time

Everything we use to perform tasks, both at home and work, involve some form of technology. Even kids use iPads and tablets to learn in school and do homework. With the educational and social capabilities of technology, how do we best manage screen time – particularly for our children? Here’s some surprising news: it doesn’t just involve time limits.

Bahar Altaha, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health, shares ways to engage your kids and teens in proper technology usage and co-play.

Screen Time Limits

“The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time daily, however, we know for many families this isn’t true,” Dr. Altaha says. “Kids are using technology in the classroom; high schoolers are wearing Bluetooth devices to listen to music or something on YouTube during school – so it can actually be more like 8 or 11 hours of technology usage daily.”

So, what can be done? Dr. Altaha suggests talking to your child or teen about technology use and agreeing upon screen time limitations. If technology is being abused, you can follow-up with parental controls that limit app usage. When the time is up, the app will require a password to use again.   

Model Good Tech Behavior

You’re taking a family walk, and while doing so, you’re scrolling through social media or texting a friend. You could be telling your child that social media or texting are appropriate during family time and that you aren’t fully engaged. 

“Children are strongly influenced by the way you use screens and are likely to copy that behavior,” Dr. Altaha says. “So much of proper technology use isn’t just setting time limits, it’s also knowing how and when to properly use it.”

Here are a few role-modeling screen time tips:

  • Sit down as a family and work together to create a family media plan. This helps give your children a voice and investment in the plan. 
  • Try not to have your phone, tablet or laptop in your bedroom and teach your children the same. 
  • If you get a text message while talking with your spouse or child, wait until the conversation is finished before checking it. 

Co-view, Co-play and Co-engage

Screen time doesn’t have to be alone time. Play video games with your kids to help demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. Watch a show and discuss what is happening afterward. Read together on the tablet or play an app your child is interested in to connect with them. 

Educate. Educate. Educate.

Remember the series “13 Reasons Why”? The National Institutes for Health reported the show was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month following the show’s release. Shocking, right? 

Dr. Altaha says violence, scary movies and negative online behaviors (such as cyber-bullying) can have a detrimental effect on a child’s behavior and mood. Monitor what platforms, applications and software they are using and what they are doing online so you aren’t blindsided. Video games may not be your thing, but parents need to educate themselves about the ratings of video games and movies as well.

Media and digital devices are an integral part of our society today, but nothing beats face-to-face time with your family. Make sure you’re spending time with your family and finding balance with screen time and family time. 

If you’re concerned about your child’s technology usage or noticing behavioral changes associated with technology use, please contact one of our trusted health care child and adolescent specialists for help.  

Behavioral Health Children's Health