If you’ve landed on this blog, you’re probably getting married relatively soon. You’re probably spending lots of time brainstorming the future with your partner, discussing what your wedding should look like, what your shared financial goals and expectations are, and whether or not you should have kids. If you do decide to have kids, you’ll probably have many talks about how to plan your parenting style.
Parenting today is different than it was for our parents’ generation in a multitude of ways. One of the most significant differences is that the millennial and Z generations have to consider a lot more questions related to gadgets like phones, ipads, computers, and others. In fact, two thirds of parents today believe that parenting is harder now than it was 20 years ago, with issues related to technology and social media being among the top reasons cited. 71% of parents who have a child under 12 are at least somewhat concerned about their kid(s) spending too much time on electronic devices, including 31% who are very concerned (Auxier et al., 2020). However, parents are ambivalent about the effects of technology; research also shows that 4 out of 5 parents believe that electronic gadgets aid their children’s development (Jary, 2022).
As technology advances and electronics become ever-more prevalent parts of our lives, it’s important for current and future parents to consider questions related to device use and their children’s health and wellbeing. For example, how often is youtube babysitter an appropriate way to keep your kid(s) occupied? How much screen time per day is too much? And are certain types of screen-based activities more acceptable than others? How can screen time impact child development? What age-related limitations (or lack thereof) should one consider? And, how can parents most effectively set boundaries related to device usage? To answer these questions and more, we turned to the experts.
The Current Situation
COVID-19 lockdowns and isolation drove a massive increase in screen time for all age groups, and social media and video chatting apps became a lifeline for connection with the outside world. The past two years have also seen a twofold surge in the amount of time kids spend on smartphones, and there are now more than 5x more whatsapp groups for kids than there were before the pandemic. 70% of parents of children ages 5-17 reported that their children’s screen time had increased as a result of the pandemic, and 60% felt they had “no choice but to allow it” (Jary, 2022). 35% also admitted to using gadgets to entertain their children (Jary, 2022).
All this extra screen time averages out to an extra 1.5 hours per day on school days, and an estimate from the US Department of Health says that most kids in the US spend around 7 hours per day in front of a screen. Kids in the US get phones at age 10, on average (Jary, 2022). Renowned psychologist Aric Sigman even claims that by the age of seven, the average child will have spent the equivalent of a full year of their life in front of a screen engaging with media recreationally, and that children spend more time watching tv than they do in school (Jary, 2022).
Effects of Digital Entertainment on Child Development
We all know that too much screen time can be bad for a developing brain, but how bad, and how so? A 2019 report in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services noted that “there is a relationship between increased screen time and greater risk of physical health complications, mental health concerns, and negative outcomes on cognitive, language, social, and emotional development” (Robidoux et al., 2019). Health authorities around the world make similar claims, pointing to potential negative effects on physical, cognitive, emotional, and social wellbeing (Straker et al., 2018).
Certain types of digital media may have positive impacts on child development (such as some educational apps and games), but specifically for older kids. Some research has shown that videos marketed as being educational products for babies (such as the Baby Einstein DVDs and others that claim to help babies’ brains grow) have been linked to sleep difficulties, learning delays, and other developmental issues (Pinola, 2019).
Nevertheless, parents are discouraged from leaning too much on the over-simplistic ‘screen time’ construct when making parenting decisions about their children’s electronic usage. Some applications (discussed below) may actually have positive implications for child development. When making decisions about tech/media usage, parents should consider type, duration, timing, and content (Straker et al., 2018).
How Much Screen Time is Healthy?
Unfortunately, this question remains tricky to answer conclusively (Jary, 2022) and is highly variable; there’s no correct one-size-fits-all approach for every family (despite the fact that we know there are plenty of unhealthy approaches). It likely depends on in which type(s) of screen time a child is engaging. Parents should consider different types of screen time when creating their rules for screen time.
For example, hours on end of non-educational video games, tv-style programming (including youtube), and scrolling through social media is likely detrimental, whereas video chatting with an auntie on the other side of the country or even with friends from school might be more benign, although face-to-face socialization should be encouraged and given precedence whenever possible, especially with friends living nearby. One way to assess the value of a particular type of screen time is to ask yourself whether the app a child is using is passive, or if it is thought-provoking and interactive (and no, video games with little or no educational value do not count as ‘thought provoking and interactive’ even if the child is playing with friends) (Pinola, N. D.).
A piece in the New York Times’ Smarter Living section on limiting kids’ tech use posited that there’s no golden number of hours of screen time that are ok for kids. Rather, the most important thing is balance. Just as it’s alright to sometimes eat a treat like ice cream or apple pie alongside a diet rich in nutrients, varying amounts of screen time are fine as long as it doesn’t become the mental equivalent of eating a diet of empty calories (Pinola, N. D.).
The answer to the ‘how much screen time’ question will also vary family by family and even kid by kid. There are a few warning signs to watch out for that could indicate a child has become too reliant on digital entertainment. If they resist screen time limits strongly, throw tantrums over these limits, or complain of boredom or unhappiness when they’re not allowed to use a device, they’re already too dependent on devices. If screen time starts getting in the way of their sleep, their academic performance, or their face-to-face communication, this is another indicator.
Guidelines by Age Group
- 0-2: No screen time, or absolute bare minimum (video chats with family are ok). Baby-proof your phone. Digital media is very bad for babies’ development during this crucial early phase (Pinola, N. D.).
- 2-5: This is an important time for a youngster’s prosocial development; as such, treat any tech time as bonding time. Play and discover games and apps together, and remember that your kid really wants and needs your undivided attention even when their attention seems to be fixed on a screen. Try out Kiddle (google for kids) and Kidoz (apps and games for kids). This is also a good time to start making rules around tech usage; for example, no screens 2 hours before bed or during mealtimes (Pinola, M. D.). Tech use should also be very limited during this phase.
- 6-12: This is a good time to start setting up child accounts on family computers (your kids may need to use the computer for homework) and turning on the parental controls in order to ensure safe browsing. Also consider that since your kids may be using tech unsupervised during this stage, there are likely to be some quite expensive “accidents”. If possible, have them use relatively inexpensive devices such as chromebooks (Pinola, N. D.).
This is also a great age range within which to start encouraging creativity by offering your kids access to apps that help them build or make things. Have them try Osmo (merge real-world objects with digital objects), Scratch (create stories, games, and animations), or Toontastic (movie making and writing) (Pinola, N. D.).
- Teenagers: At this age, kids are starting to use social media a lot more, so it’s important to continuously affirm that their self-worth should not be dependent on likes, comments, or shares. Additionally, teenagers will likely expect more privacy than younger kids, and rightly so. However, it’s important to strike a balance between monitoring their social media and internet usage and granting them privacy, and communication about these matters needs to be transparent. Set expectations clearly. For example, as a parent your rule might be that if you suspect anything is amiss, you’ll ask them to hand over their device for your perusal, but that privacy will be granted otherwise (Pinola, N. D.).
Guidelines for Setting Limits
Kids don’t usually like limits very much, even though they need them. Here are some tips you can take forward and implement into your limit-setting approach.
- Designate no-screen times. These might be during meals, in the car, during certain hours or times of day, etc. Choose which screen-free times make the most sense for your family (Pinola, N. D.).
- Model appropriate tech usage. If you don’t want your kids to be addicted to digital technologies, neither can you. This may be the hardest part; the bulk of this article has been about problems that can arise when kids use their gadgets too frequently, but the truth is that many of us adults also have major problems regulating device usage in our own lives. In order to set an example, it’s of utmost importance to make sure you as a parent are using your devices appropriately and in moderation. Feel like you need to be constantly ‘on call’ for work obligations? Carefully consider which calls or messages you genuinely “have to” respond to right this instant, and which can wait until after you finish playing that game with your kid (Pinola, N. D.).
- Encourage Productive Screen Time: If kids show interest in tech-related pursuits aside from just mindless entertainment, these should be encouraged. For example, offer them programming or computer science courses, support them in learning digital design, animation, or video editing, and research apps that might be useful in helping them learn more about their hobbies and interests (Pinola, N. D.).
Prenups, Parenting, and Electronics
Having the prenup talk opens up communication about a whole range of topics you may not have considered before. You’ll talk in-depth about your financial future as well as other future plans and goals. Around this time, many couples also start making concrete plans for if and when they want to become parents, as well. Here are a few clauses you should consider including in your prenup if you plan on having kids.
Lifestyle clauses are also becoming increasingly popular for the millennial generation. A lifestyle clause allows you to formally envision other aspects of your life that are not related to finances. Although often unenforceable, many couples like them because they promote accountability and get them on the same page about important considerations outside of money. You might even consider including a lifestyle clause about gadget usage and how you plan to manage this aspect of both married life and parenthood.
If you’re reading this article before becoming parents, we hope it’s helpful in helping you to envision a healthy future for your child. If you’re already a parent, leave a comment below and let us know your own top tips for helping your kids develop healthy habits when it comes to screen time and digital media!
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Auxier, B., Anderson, M., Perrin, A., & Turner, E. 2020. Parenting Children in the Age of Screens. Retrieved from: https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/07/28/parenting-children-in-the-age-of-screens/
Jary, S. 2022. How Much Screen Time is Healthy for Kids? Retrieved from: https://www.techadvisor.com/article/726637/how-much-screen-time-for-kids.html
Pinola, M. N. D. How and When to Limit Kids’ Tech Use. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/guides/smarterliving/family-technology
Robidoux, H., Ellington, E., & Lauerer, J. 2019. Screen Time: The Impact of Digital Technology on Children and Strategies in Care. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 57(11), 15-20.
Straker, L., Zabatiero, J., Danby, S., Thorpe, K., & Edwards, S. 2018.
Conflicting Guidelines on Young Children’s Screen Time and Use of Digital Technology Create Policy and Practice Dilemmas. Journal of Pediatrics (202), 300-303.