For many parents raising kids in the digital age, their children’s screen time can be both a blessing and a curse. Sure, when used correctly, the televisions, tablets, smartphones, video game systems (both in-home and portable), computers and the like can offer positive, educational experiences for their youngest users. And it’s hard to deny that they come in handy when Mom and Dad need a bit of a reprieve from their parental duties or want to keep the kids content and occupied — dare we say even quiet? — on a long road trip.
But all of this technology also brings a worrisome list of potential negatives, and screen addiction might be chief among them. With researchers linking excessive screen time with childhood issues including sleep deprivation, poor social skills and even speech delays, parents should be keenly aware of the signs of screen addiction. These can include trouble putting the devices down, diminished interest in other activities, a preoccupation with video games (indicated by incessant talk about the child’s game of choice), sneaking in screen time, and social impacts, such as trouble making conversation without taking glimpses at the screen.
Parents looking to prevent a child’s screen addiction — or to combat an already-developing problem, along with any other concerns regarding content consumption — can consider these five tips for limiting and guiding a child’s time with digital media:
- Impose time limitations: To ensure that kids don’t spend too big a chunk of their day on screens and that they don’t stay up past bedtime playing games, watching videos or otherwise engulfed in the digital world, concerned parents should impose strict limits on when and how often their kids can be online. The devices themselves can offer an assist here, as many feature parental-control options that allow a specified number of internet hours a day or let parents set the daily times when the internet can be accessed. FTC’s Premium Whole Home Wi-Fi has the parental control feature built-in to give parents that needed control, all the way down to the device (see link below for more information).
- Establish tech-free zones and times: Another popular tactic among parents is to set times and places when the internet is off-limits for the kids and for those willing to practice what they preach, for the parents, too. For example, mealtime could be designated as a no-technology time that fosters conversation and family connection, or certain areas of the house (such as in the kids’ bedrooms) could be established as tech-free zones.
- Closely monitor access to games, videos and other media: With an array of violent and otherwise inappropriate content out there, parents should keep a close eye on what video games their kids are playing, what shows they’re watching, etc. to make sure that they’re age-appropriate and a fit with the standards set in the home. Sites like Common Sense Media offer a range of ratings and reviews to help parents decide what media they do and don’t approve of, and many devices’ parental controls allow parents to block access to content they consider inappropriate for their children.
- Create a contract: Once all of the internet-access rules have been discussed and loosely established, parents and kids should sit down together to iron out all the details — then write them down so that no disputes arise later over what the exact rules are. Helpful tip: Parents who are willing to allow a bit of negotiation might find that their kids are more amenable to the rules if they get to play some role (however small) in establishing them.
- Change the Wi-Fi password: To ensure that kids don’t access the internet in violation of the ground rules set above, parents can change their home’s Wi-Fi password, then require their children to bring devices to them for password entry when they’d like to get online. Once healthy internet-use patterns and trust have been established, parents can share the Wi-Fi password with their kids or save it in their kids’ devices — then change the password again should the need arise.
Looking to take control of your child’s screen time? FTC’s Premium Whole-Home Wi-Fi and Whole-Home Wi-Fi Plus offer a range of advanced features, including Parental Controls that allow you to set up a separate Guest Wi-Fi connection, create and apply user policies, and manage the devices on your network. For more information on all of our internet rates and services, visit ftc.net.