8 things parents should know about screen time

From iPads and mobile phones to social media and the internet … how can you help your kids navigate the time they spend in front of a screen?

The average child spends at least 10 hours a week in front of a screen, which includes watching TV, using the internet, or playing screen-based games.

Educator and technology expert Daniel Donahoo says screen time can be part of a healthy lifestyle – as long as families follow a few simple guidelines.

Know what your child is doing on screen

Screen time can be using a smart phone and playing with an app, or watching ABC Kids or Netflix.

“If a child says ‘can I have screen time?’ say ‘what would you like to do on the screen?’ Have specifics about what your child is doing on screen,” says Daniel.

Help children make good screen time choices

Good-quality apps, games, YouTube clips, movies and TV shows can help children learn, be creative, solve problems and broaden their social skills.

Look for TV shows, movies and apps with positive messages and characters that model respect.

Common Sense Media has entertainment and technology recommendations for families.

Mix up the types of screen time

Daniel says a combination of the three types of screen time – passive, interactive and creative – is ideal.

Passive screen time involves activities like watching TV. Interactive screen time includes activities where children do something, such as playing computer games. Creative screen time includes apps like Minecraft or creating YouTube videos and movies.

Spend time with your child on screen

“Reading to your children is important to develop their literacy but spending time on screens and playing with your children on digital devices is good to build their media literacy,” says Daniel.

Don’t feel guilty about screen time

Parents can feel guilty if they let their child play on a screen for half an hour while they have a coffee.

But if chances to relax are scarce, screens can be a sanity saver.

“We can use these devices to allow us as adults to have some time as long as we know what children are doing on their screens,” says Daniel.

Build trust with your children

Make sure children understand that if something makes them feel uncomfortable or worried when they are using their screens, they can come to you.

“Say, ‘I won’t blame you. I won’t take your technology away and I will help fix it. If children think we will stop them having access to social media, they will not come to us,” says Daniel.

Don’t panic

“When teenagers are on social media, they mostly connect with people in their circle. They use it in a specific way and the nature of being a teenager is to create independence and some privacy. Teenagers do that on social media,” explains Daniel.

Develop a family technology plan

Agree on some rules around screen time, such as not having screens in the bedroom.

It may include an agreement around how much screen time is passive, interactive and creative. Re-visit and tweak the plan every six months. Cyber Safety Project has a good Family Digital Use Guidelines template that can be used to develop a plan.

Daniel has helped develop a series of information videos for the Raising Children Network that cover topics such as how screen time helps children learn and healthy video gaming.

Written by Sarah Marinos.