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The Beginner’s Guide to Setting Family Screen Time Limits

The Beginners Guide to Setting Screen Time Limits

Screen time is definitely a buzz word in the parenting and education world today. How much is too much? What is okay and not okay? What affect is technology having on our children and students? How do we help set limits without getting into an argument every time? So many questions and the answers aren’t always simple. Ultimately, we may wonder:

What are the actual practices and mindsets that make effective guidelines for families regarding technology use?

I’m here to share a “spark notes” version of my own research I found this past spring (of 2019) regarding this very topic- parents’ best practices to setting effective tech guidelines for their families. For my final research project to earn my Masters of Education, this topic, was the big blinking question. I did lots of fun (not really) reading and summarizing with the latest research from professional organizations, psychologists, and research groups. The research was examined further as I taught a small group of parents with kids aged 0-16 through a hybrid (online and face-to-face) class on how to create technology guidelines for your family.

(Sidenote: A random lesson learned from graduate school…there is a LOT of research available for the average Joe, but most of it is not verifiable and reliable when you look closely. Lesson learned. Digging to find the legit stuff is definitely worth the hassle.)

There’s no doubt about it, as a former elementary teacher and now parent, I see the ways technology and screen time is changing my own world and soon, my little guy’s. My husband and I are young in our journey of parenthood; however, this topic is one we wanted to begin the conversation early on with, which is part of why I want to share what I found here. It’s made a difference in our lives in just the past few months since the class and I hope to share what we’ve learned with you too-in hopes it will make a difference in your family as well.

Why is setting screen time guidelines a big deal?

The new reality we, as parents, are experiencing in regards to technology is one that is a far cry from what we experienced as children growing up. The world has changed greatly, in many ways than only technology, and it is worth noting this new technology has provided opportunities that are incredible-yet, perhaps also bearing consequences as well. Do you ever think about how much you are on your phone, especially around your little one? Is your child used to having your full attention or instead accustomed to constant interruption by a buzz or ding alerting us to something more urgent? (I’m preaching to myself here too friend, so don’t worry, I’m no better.)

Do we know the long-term effect of screens on us? Or our little ones? No. Not fully. But. It’s worth beginning the conversation and question. And it’s worth starting to put guidelines up for our children, families, and…..gulp…ourselves.

Here are some common misconceptions I’ve heard or read about from friends/parents/people in general about technology and screen time.

Screen time is bad. It needs to be removed completely.

No. That’s not why I’m talking about this. I don’t believe watching a movie with your child or a youtube video or playing a game on the iPad is anything to be avoided or ashamed of. Not at all. In fact, these are often great ways to deepen understanding on certain topics or share an experience with your child or practice certain skills.

Read these words: this is not a shame game. Everyone’s lives looks different. But one thing is certain, for children to thrive and continue on a normal developmental growth pattern, it’s best if guidelines are set for technology use. (Please see the 2017 research summary from Common Sense Media and the American Academy of Pediatrics online research and tools for more information on these reasons. These were two of my favorite sources from my research because of their thorough but overarching perspective of the whole child’s development.)

I don’t know what the guidelines should be.

This answer obviously depends on a lot of things. Your child, their age, your family’s schedule, values, and what your child/family’s individual needs are. There are lots of great resources that you can look to as examples, but ultimately, it has to be adapted and fitted to your family. This isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There are great examples out there to help you start the process.

It’s not important for me to be consistent in following my own technology technology.

NOT TRUE. This was one of the biggest take-aways from my research. If you think family technology guidelines begin and end with rules for your child, the research consistently shows that this will be ineffective. The biggest factor that can influence a child’s behavior with technology are his or her own parents, their personal technology use, and how they demonstrate discipline and guidelines in their personal use. (Linked articles will demonstrate the research I am summarizing.)

How to get started with setting family guidelines

What do you need to get started?

  • Motivation to change yourself
  • A humble heart
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Device (how ironic since we are talking about setting limits on screen time use…but trust me, this will be handy to use when looking at examples and ideas)

Tips for Success in Creating Screen Time Guidelines

I’m going to give you the most valuable tips I found through teaching my class and what the parents learned as they wrote guidelines for their families. You’ll need to set your own agenda with time and space to reflect and create guidelines for your family.

  • Examine your own attitude toward technology. Do you view it as a bad thing? A good thing? An in-between thing? Reflect on why. This will help you dig deeper later on as you set family goals.
  • Start with yourself. As with most things in parenting (and maybe life in general), it’s often worth taking a look deeper inside yourself, your motives, habits, and thoughts before pushing for change in others. Study your own technology habits and consider where you’d like to see improvement in your own life. Set a simple goal and hold to it for at least a week. Reflect on what you learned-what worked well and what didn’t?
  • Examine your family’s attitudes and values relating to technology.
    • Does your family strive to minimize technology use or integrate it into everyday living? Or a combination of both?
    • Is it important for you, as the parents, to also keep technology guidelines for your personal use (this should be obvious if you were reading above ;)?
    • How important is it to you that your children feel comfortable using various forms of technology and at what age should they do so?
    • Do you feel like it’s too late for you and/or your family to start implementing guidelines?
    • Should the parents create the guidelines with or without the children’s input?
  • Make a list of alternative activities each person in your family enjoys that is apart from technology. As you create and implement guidelines, having these individual lists to look back on will help you maintain the change and find other ways to spend your time. Of course, change is always hard right away, but you will find new ways to bond and make memories as a family! This is worth the growing pains.
  • Before you write the specific technology guidelines, create a family vision statement about technology. Decide on three main values you want your family to be centered upon. What do you want your children to remember and naturally apply to their own life? This general overview will help you flush out the specifics of what technology use looks like in the season of your family right now.

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Setting Family Technology Guidelines

It starts with you.

The beginning of change in your family starts with you (and your spouse if you are married) prioritizing your own behaviors around technology. This probably isn’t what you wanted to hear when you came here, but it’s what the research, and real life experience, will show you. Change starts when your kids see you modeling to them what you hope they will do as well.

It takes time.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take weeks for you to reflect, develop, and change your own habits around technology and weeks to do the same for you family. And once you create the guidelines, as years and seasons go by, change will happen again when babies grow into teenagers (ahhhh!!!!). Guidelines will stretch and grow as your children and family does. Grace and patience are important as time marches on.

Do you want to learn more?

Do you have a question about this? Would you like to learn more specifics of the class I taught? I’d love to share more, but I need to know what you want to know. Comment below on what you are thinking friend, I can’t wait to hear from you!

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