Last month, my daughter spent a whopping 880 minutes on her iPad, reading 80 books on a reading app. That number might sound alarming to some parents, but it’s not to me. Instead of worrying about the nearly 15 hours of screen time she racked up, I was happy and proud she’d taken such an interest in reading.
Of course, I want kids to find a balance between the digital and real worlds — my wife and I ensure our daughter is mentally, physically, and socially active offline, too. But I also believe that, as parents, we should be less worried about how much time our kids are spending on the iPad and more worried about what they’re consuming when they’re on it.
Making Strides Toward High-Quality Online Behavior
Studies from respected institutions and organizations agree that children need device boundaries — but not ones based on time alone. Case in point: Research by Cardiff University and the Oxford Internet Institute shows that the well-being of children (age two to five) doesn’t hinge on how many minutes they spend online. Rather, it matters how active parents are in teaching safe online behavior and exploring the digital world with their children.
Similarly, a study by the University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development concludes that social media addiction in children between the ages of four and 11 is measured not according to hours, but in how tech usage affects their everyday lives. In other words, it’s the quality of kids’ internet use, not the time spent nose-to-phone, that has an impact.
Of course, this brings up a good question: How do we define what, exactly, high-quality screen time is? Much like art, it’s in the eye of the beholder — but low-quality screen time is usually easy to spot. I get concerned, for example, when my daughter is slumped over a screen, watching video after video. That’s passive online behavior, not active engagement.
I’d rather she use platforms that were made for learning and creating — something I never had as a kid. When she leverages those online tools and platforms, I don’t consider it time poorly spent. While you may not like that Lego blocks have been usurped by Roblox and Minecraft, there are apps that encourage age-appropriate play. I love when my daughter shares video with me and FaceTimes with her grandparents.
Technology gives kids endless opportunities to connect and create — especially when it’s balanced with healthy offline experiences. Take these steps to make sure your kids’ screen time will benefit them in the long run.
1. Proactively monitor online activity.
Apple’s iOS 12 Screen Time feature lets you see how much time your child has spent on a device, as well as which apps or social media platforms were used. You can set limits, track behaviors, and access your child’s device information remotely. If your kids want more time online, they can make a request that goes directly to you.
2. Talk about screen guidelines and expectations.
Have an open conversation with your kids about how you expect them to use technology. Explain the importance of not wasting it all on one type of browsing. Then, implement limits for each day to improve worrisome habits, if needed, or praise healthier device usage.
3. Look for objective information.
I have yet to find a definitive answer about exactly how much screen time makes sense for kids — probably because there isn’t one. With so much up in the air, take it upon yourself to watch for new findings and read them without bias. Then, form your own conclusions based on solid evidence.
4. Make bedtime screen-free.
Every member of the family should follow this tip. During the hour before bed, family members — adults included — should put away their devices. Not only will you all get better rest, but you can also use this screen-free time to engage in other family activities, like reading books aloud.
5. Practice what you preach.
It frustrates me when parents ban or severely limit their children from using devices, only to turn around and endlessly scroll through Instagram. Children observe what we do, so be aware of your own bad habits. If you want your children to put their devices down during family meals or events, prepare to do so, too. Otherwise, you’ll have a tough time getting them offline.
We all know that our children will use technology sooner or later. Now’s the time to help your little ones develop healthy browsing behaviors and online habits — just remember to consider quality over quantity.