Parenting in the Age of Screen Time

Setting screen time rules isn’t simple, but Anya Kamenetz’ new book, “The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life,” aims to help parents moderate technology in their children’s lives.

Kamenetz, an expert on education and technology, spoke with Mimi Ito, director of the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine, in the first in a series of online conversations and podcasts, featuring books and research that aim to help educators, scholars, parents and technology makers make sense of learning in the digital age.

Many parents, Kamenetz said, “seem to have trouble exercising their authority in terms of actually making rules and sticking to them.”

“There isn’t a one-size fits all solution,” Ito said. “Consistency and some kind of shared family norms are important. … The underlying thing is you have to have a set of shared values with your family but there’s such a hunger for easy standardized guidelines… People want some easy guidelines and don’t want to be told, ‘well it kind of depends.’ ”

Kamenetz’ book offers parents a “compass.” Move No. 1: “Here are some scary things that can happen with too much screen time — obesity sleep issues…behavioral issues, issues around the kid’s relationship to the media that they’re using … If you’re seeing any of that, then whatever you’re doing, you should do less,” she said.

Move No. 2: “You do need a system for what the rules are going to be that is clear and communicated to your kid. And, you can do it based on time, but you can also do it based on occasion, and/or priority. … Cut back if you need to cut back, make a system, and then, think about shifting toward the positive. What is it that our kids love about the time they’re spending online. How can you build on that? How can you stretch it toward other interesting uses? So that’s the enjoy part. I think it’s fairly simple. It’s a formula for making decisions. It’s a rubric. It’s not a rule,” Kamenetz added.

“It’s almost like a decision tree,” Ito said. “You can’t create a general rule with tons of exceptions and expect it to really be helpful for people. … It’s so clear that everybody has to learn mindfulness and attention management skills so much earlier. There are new kinds of industries, practices and educational programs that are going to have to help us.”

Curiosity is the way forward, Kamenetz said. “As we watch the kinds of things that are happening, and the way the kids take to the devices, and their relationships to them and what it does to them, it’s a way for us to learn.”

A few excerpts from Chapter 10 of “The Art of Screen Time”:

When in doubt, try to use media as a means of connecting.

On average, school-aged children today are spending more waking hours per week with electronic media than any other single activity…. Adults, meanwhile, are spending most waking hours engaged with electronic media, period.

Excessive exposure to media, including in the background, has small but measurable, negative effects on children of all ages. Of these effects, the ones we have the strongest evidence for are obesity and disrupted sleep.

Media can have measurable positive effects too, on reading, school readiness, concentration and learning.

Habits are often set in the preschool years, which is when parents have the most control. But it’s never too late to have a positive influence; different ages require different approaches.

Parental rules and attitudes about technology make a measurable , positive difference through the teenage years and beyond.

Screens and sleep don’t mix.

Rather than having hard-and-fast rules, it makes sense, especially for older kids, to work toward setting limits and priorities collaboratively.

From an early age, encourage creativity and expression as part of your child’s media use. This could be anything from decorating greeting cards using the Paper app, to a coding app like Scratch, Jr., to using YouTube to research how a volcano works.

Everyone in the family, including parents, should observe certain screen-free occasions like family dinner.

The goal is to raise responsible kids in an atmosphere of trust ad support. Surveillance won’t achieve that. Treat online social spaces much as you would kids hanging out at a friend’s house — trust, verify, and then respect their privacy.

The video and podcast are available online.

Banner image credit: r. nial bradshaw