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A lot is said about the negative impacts of screens, technology, and media on children. The reality is these technology and screens aren’t going anywhere. Our children are growing up in a time when technology is literally at the touch of their fingertips. Kids are savvy digital natives. All of this can make it difficult for parents to manage their child’s use of screens, technology, and media. Now I am not suggesting that just because technology is so readily available that we should disregard screen time recommendations. I would like to suggest that instead focusing on screen time, we follow Common Sense Media’s advice and shift our focus to creating a healthy, balanced screen diet. Just like how we want to have balanced meals, we can also create a balanced screen diet.

A great place to start in creating this balanced diet is to think about the activities that your child enjoys and that you want them to do during any given week. These might include playtime, playing with friends, reading books, swimming lessons, going for walks, playing games on the iPad, watching tv/movies, video chatting with family and so much more. Your list should include both screen activity and non-screen activities. Do you have a good balance of screen-based activities and non-screen activities?

The next step to creating a healthy, balanced screen diet is to shift the focus from screen time to screen quality. Not all media is created equal. It is important for parents to preview media their child is accessing. A great resource for this Common Sense Media. Parents can read reviews on everything from tv to apps to video games and more.

Common Sense Media uses the acronym MEALS to help parents remember other important ways they can create healthy screen diets for the children.

Model healthy screen usage for your child. We know that kids are always watching us, and the adage do as I say, not as I do doesn’t work. If we are always on screens, our kids are going to want to follow suit. We can also model how to take care of technology, how to stop using technology and transition to another activity and so much more.

Engage in technology with your child. Sit down and play your child’s favorite app with them or watch tv with your child. Not only does this make screen time more fun, but it also makes it more meaningful. You can increase your child’s comprehension of what they are watching or playing by asking questions or talking about the concepts they are exploring.

Adjust how, what and when your child uses technology. I already discussed making sure your child is accessing quality screen time, but we should also consider how and when we are using technology with our kids. Screens can be an easy distraction for parents to use when their child must wait or is upset. Unfortunately, when we use screens as a distraction our kids do not have the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to calm themselves when they are upset or learn how to wait for something.

Set consistent Limits for your child. These limits should include not only time spent on screens but also when, what and where they use screens. Consider setting up screen free times during your day. At our house, mealtimes are screen free. We turn off the tv and our phones must stay in our pockets. Another limit to consider is where your child uses screens. We do not have screens in our bedrooms. It is also a good idea to have your child use screens in a public area. This makes it easier for you to monitor what your child is doing on their screen. You can also utilize parental controls to help limit what your child can access on their devices.

Support one another. Be on the same page with your parenting partner about all the advice above. It is also important to gain support from other important people in your child’s life. This could include grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, and other caregivers. Explain your limits and encourage them to engage in media with your child in ways that match your limits.

A great way to kick off a new healthy screen diet is to participate in Screen Free Week May 2nd-8th. Our early learning team will be sharing lots of fun screen free activities on Facebook (South Washington County Schools Early Learning) and Instagram (SoWashCo Early Learning) all this week to help you create your plan for screen free week.

Adapted from Common Sense Media “Finding Balance with Media and Tech at Home.”