Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.
- Jim Morrison
The second day of school my son brought home a short booklet that was to be signed by all family members. It was the technology policy for his school. Covering every facet of screen interaction, each statement began with “No….” It is indeed critical for each school to have a policy on how technology is used. But in family life, the policy, or “rules” around screen time are just not enough. I began asking, what do kids know about screens, their effects and why they should be limited? How are children taught to interact with screens – what to do in addition to what not to do? As I was asking these questions, two friends, also readers, got in touch and asked whether I had any written media agreement for a family. I promised that I would research and work on one so that all could benefit including my own family.
One friend with a nine and a twelve year old wrote,
My biggest concern is how to go about limiting overall screen time. Between TV, DVD’s. Kindle, iPad, iPhone and Wii, there are many opportunities for my kids to
sneak in screen time. I would like to find a way to not only impress upon my kids
the need to limit screen time, but also explain to them the reasons why it’s
important to limit screen time. I need them to buy into screen time limitations
without having an argument each time “time is up”.
This is a common concern particularly since the average child spends seven hours a day with screens. The use of screens impacts each member of the family in significant ways. Commonly, parents are less able to separate work and home. There is much more pressure to keep up with the global 24/7 nature of business. It invades time with children. In order to cope with that added pressure, there’s a tendency for parents to allow children to participate in more screen time to buy more time to keep up with the demands.
Parents and children need to first understand the facts to make informed decisions. Instead of nagging or fighting over screen time regularly, It is worth setting aside a time for a family meeting solely to discuss media. Make it enjoyable. Pop some popcorn or share a treat while you talk about what makes the most sense for your family. In that discussion, first share the impacts with them so that they better understand. It’s not about you, the parent, taking something away that gives them pleasure and connects them to their friends. It’s about their safety, growth and well-being.
Here’s a sample of a family meeting agenda.
- Define media (the variety of screens that exist in the house) and the fact that you want to focus the discussion on this topic.
- What are some of our best experiences with media? What types and why do we love it? What are some frustrations or challenges with media?
- Share and know the facts. Please see the list below for facts you can share. Be sure you clarify and ask questions about the facts to model that kind of questioning for your children.
- Add your own family’s facts! Do include time constraints – fitting in homework, snack time and dinner after school, soccer practice, free chance to play and also, time to connect as a family. What lost opportunities are there when screen time is unlimited? How do we want to connect as a family each day? Is it at a mealtime? Get clear on where this fits first.
- Now, considering the facts, you might ask the following questions: A. How do we need to limit screen time in our house? B. How much time should we allot? C. When should it be used? D. Where should it be used? E. How should it be used?
- Finally each person in the family can give one hope or dream for how media will positively contribute to their lives in the future.
Once your family policy has been discussed and agreed upon, take the time to write up your family agreement and leave spaces for signatures as you would a contract. Use the following as a template for your family:
Sample Family Media Agreement by Jennifer S. Miller
In addition, as media savvy parents, there are a few things you can do to create a safe environment for screen use.
- Consider carefully before adding new devices. Delay use while young for as long as possible. Realize that each time a screen is added, you must factor in your own role as supervisor and supportive manager.
- Place screens in public rooms. Do not allow computers or televisions in bedrooms. Some argue, “He has a school assigned laptop that he uses for homework so I need to allow him to use that in his bedroom.” Educators concur that homework is best done in the context of a family public quiet space where he can receive support if needed.
- Place chargers in your bedroom overnight so there is not a middle of the night temptation.
- Set up safety controls together. For example, when your daughter signs up for Facebook, sit down with her and help her establish privacy settings.
- Make media a regular discussion topic in family conversations. Parents tend to fear the unknown but the digital world is a community that plays a role in all family members’ lives. Ask questions, share concerns and offer up suggestions as you would with your participation in any significant community.
The tension of the tightrope we walk, as digital-age parents, between overprotection, rule setting and enforcement and under-protection, hands-off permission and allowing of privacy can challenges us when it comes to a child’s digital participation. As with any community that plays a critical role in your child’s life, being an involved, knowledgeable and empathetic coach and participant will allow you entrance and contribution. It will help ensure that your family members not only stay safe but also, benefit from the use of technology.
Here are some of the facts about why limiting screen time is important.
1. Too much screen time changes the structure and functioning of the brain.
From brain plasticity research, whatever stimuli is received over time directly affects the development and hard wiring of the brain. If children are used to the stimulus of changing images every 5-6 seconds, then their brain needs that stimulus to help them focus their attention.1
2. Too much screen time also can result in obesity (unconscious eating), desensitivity to violent images and less nourishing (REM) sleep. 2
3. Hormones levels change. Dopamine, a pleasure hormone, is released while watching screens which makes the experience addictive. It’s human nature to desire that pleasure response and return to it repeatedly. Melatonin is reduced which effects the ability to regulate sleep, the strength of the immune system and the onset of puberty.1
4.The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or media use for children younger than two years old and for older children, total screen time (including all electronic devices) should be limited to less than one to two hours per day of nonviolent programming that is supervised by parents or other responsible adults.2
The reason is that heavy viewing has been shown to retard the myelination process in the early brain, particularly from birth to age four. 3 Myelination is the process in which nerve cells in the brain build up a fatty protein sheath that improves conductivity, enhancing the flow of information from one cell to another. If this process is retarded, there’s a loss in the ability to use the imagination and think creatively. 4
5. Mental fatigue shows itself in reduced effectiveness and a rise in distractedness and irritability. No screen time can restore cognitive fatigue. Researchers have found the best way to restore thinking is by being in nature. 5
6. In order for any person to be able to utilize higher order thinking skills including creative problem solving, they must have the time for both focused attention on their goals and also, wandering (daydreaming) attention without entertainment to distract them. 5
In addition to the reasons why screen time should be limited in family life, there are also some facts that children show know about online participation.
- Once you place anything online, it’s very difficult to erase it. Pause before you post!
- There is a trail of each person’s participation online that often begins before they are born (for example, when parents post birth announcements on Facebook). Watch “Digital Dossier” on YouTube with your children (safe for child audiences) to better help them understand their online presence.
- Treat the web as if it were a big city. There are human beings behind every post and paragraph with feelings. Assume what you share could be viewed by anyone and everyone in the world. Even emails and texts have entered into court cases and been published in newspapers. For all that you send out, ask yourself, “Is it okay with me if everyone sees this?”
- Treat others and their comments and photographs with respect. It’s an old saying but it still applies, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
I’d like to offer a big thanks to Susie Fabro and Julie Iven for raising this issue. How do you manage media in your home? Please share your ideas.
Check out the following resources.
For more reading on this important topic:
Clark, L. S. (2013). The Parent App; Understanding Families in the Digital Age. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Check out the following online resources.
Common Sense Media
Find age-appropriate movies, books, apps, TV shows, video games, websites, and music that you and your kids will love. Browse our library of more than 17,500 reviews by age, entertainment type, learning rating, genre, and more using the filters in the left column. Common Sense has recently begun a blog about parenting and media issues with titles such as Best 2013 Oscar Movies for Kids, Screen Time Rules for Every Occasion, Watch Out! Cursing in “Family” Movies.
Other Blog Articles:
Navigating Our Global Neighborhood
Navigating the Content of Our Global Neighborhood
Mind Change: How Digital Technologies are Leaving their Mark on our Brains
Parents’ TV Viewing Habits Influence Childrens’ Screen Time
1 Walker, S. (2010). Why Limit Screen Time? Reasons Why You Should Limit Screen Time. Retrieved from http://www.scilearn.com/blog/5-reasons-you-should-limit-screen-time on 8-25-14.
2 American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved on 8-25-14.
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education. (2001). Children, adolescents, and television. Pediatrics. Elk Grove Village, IL: Author.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2002). Television – How it affects children. Elk Grove Village, IL: Author. Retrieved on July 12, 2006.
3 Pearce, J. C. (1992). Evolution’s end: Claiming the potential of our intelligence. San Francisco: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1992.
4 Buzzell, K. (1998). The children of cyclops: The inﬂuences of television on the developing human brain. Fair Oaks, CA: The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.
5 Goleman, D. (2013). Focus; The Hidden Driver of Excellence. NY: HarperCollins Publishers.