With summer’s arrival and the less hectic pace it brings for families compared to the school year, it may be tempting for parents to allow children to watch a little more television or play that video game a little longer.
But, it is important to maintain a healthy balance when it comes to children’s exposure to screen media and devices, even during summer break.
“One of the big worries is that overexposure to screen media and devices could interfere with children getting the proper amounts of sleep or physical activity, playing, interacting with others and engaging in other behaviors that could affect their health both now and in years to come,” said Laura Hubbs-Tait, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension parenting specialist.
Summer time is a chance for families to get creative in the ways they keep children engaged without relying too heavily on media.
“The goal for parents of school-aged children and adolescents should be to find a good balance between media use and other healthy activities,” Hubbs-Tait said. “You can turn this into a family project with everyone participating in identifying the best ways to manage the family’s media diet.”
Families that already have a media plan should stick to it throughout the summer.
For guidance on putting together a customized plan, families can use the Family Media Use Plan tool recently launched by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is available at www.healthychildren.org.
A family media plan should include elements such as media-free periods during dinner or while in the car, when all media devices are turned off. There also may be media-free zones in the house such as bedrooms for sleeping and kitchens for eating and talking.
“Parents who set up and obey the rules of media-free zones serve as role models for the importance of limiting media and also encourage children’s language and social development,” Hubbs-Tait said.
As part of the family media plan, parents should often and openly discuss the importance of being safe and respectful to others both online and offline. They also should talk about the importance of the same rules of etiquette in screen media interactions as in face-to-face interactions.
The most recent AAP recommendations on media usage for children and adolescents were issued in October 2016.
Those guidelines suggest limiting screen media for children younger than 18 months to face-to-face video chatting only. For children between 18 and 24 months, if parents want to introduce them to media, the parents should select high-quality programming and watch and talk about it with them. This promotes parent-child social interaction and fosters child language development.
Meanwhile, children ages 2 years to 5 years should be limited to one hour of screen time per day featuring high-quality programming, with parents on hand to view it with them.
For children age 6 and older, the AAP recommends establishing and maintaining consistent limits on the time they spend interacting with media, as well as the types of media they are using.
“Screen media including computers, smart phones, tablets, televisions and other devices are a big part of our daily lives and that’s not going to change in the future,” Hubbs-Tait said. “However, parents should look to incorporate these technologies in ways that will best support their children’s healthy growth and development.”