Kids on Their Phones Too Much? Make a Family Media Plan!
If you were a fly on the wall in my house last night, you would have witnessed this discussion:
Me: “Isn’t it time to turn your phone off and do your homework?”
Daughter: “I’m doing my homework!”
Me: “On your phone?” (Rolls eyes.)
Daughter: “Yes, actually.” (Rolls eyes.)
I’m sure this exchange is repeated in homes all over the country every night. Nearly 75 percent of teens own a smartphone. Common Sense Media’s 2016 survey on technology addiction found that:
- 50 percent of teens feel addicted to their phones.
- 72 percent of teens feel the need to respond immediately to texts and messages.
- More than 70 percent of teens argue over the use of their phones with parents.
All of this connectivity has both risks and benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently came out with a policy statement on Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents. Below is an overview of the AAP’s findings.
Kids who spend more time on a device are more likely to:
- Gain weight because of sedentary screen time.
- Have disrupted sleep caused by bedtime exposure to content and blue light from electronic devices.
- Portray their risky health behaviors, like smoking, drinking, eating disorders, and drug use, on their social media sites.
- Experience cyberbullying and sexting.
Preteens and teens can benefit from online time by:
- Forming positive social connections – this is especially powerful for teens who feel isolated because of disability, or sexual or gender orientation.
- Remaining connected to friends and family in distant locations.
- Collaborating on homework.
- Gaining knowledge.
- Being exposed to healthy habits on social media sites.
Whether kids benefit from or are harmed by their time spent online depends on what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and for how long. A one-size-fits-all rule can no longer be applied to guide parents as they set rules about media use.
Given this, the AAP recommends that parents and caregivers develop a family media plan that takes into account the health, education, and entertainment needs of each individual child as well as the whole family; and then follow the family media plan together, revising it when necessary.
To help with this goal, 2 tools were developed: Create Your Family Media Plan and a Media Time Calculator. These help families define how media will be used in their homes by balancing online time with activities like sleep, homework, family time, and physical activity; and by setting screen-free times and zones, and device curfews. They also open up discussions about digital citizenship and safety.
Media use during homework can be an especially prickly topic for families. Setting rules for this is a great way to teach time management while helping kids succeed in school.
Try to reach these agreements with your kids:
- Homework will be done in the kitchen or family area.
- Devices will be left on the counter and only accessed when an assignment requires it.
- Parents will look over kids’ shoulders at times to check on progress.
These new guidelines also looked at parents’ use of media. When we’re focused on our phones we can miss chances to connect with our kids. Parents need to be digital role models by managing our use of devices and demonstrating kind, ethical behavior when online (just as we do in real life). Also, when we post information about or photos of our kids online, we need to carefully consider the consequences. Ask who our “sharenting” serves and how it could negatively affect our kids.
Speaking of “sharenting,” I did ask my daughter before sharing our evening tussle over using her cell phone during homework time! She agreed. Doing that, plus reviewing the AAP Media Time Calculator together, opened up a good discussion between us. It’s exactly these discussions that families need to have.
More resources for parents
The American Academy of Pediatrics:
Family Media Plan toolkit
Talking About Sexting with Your Children
Cyberbullying: Important Information for Parents
AAP Policy: Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents
JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) on “sharenting”:
Parental Sharing on the Internet
This article was previously published on Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools blog
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