With almost everyone staying indoors and many parents working from home (some for the first time), finding a screen time balance is tricker than ever but it could be a great time to teach responsible screen usage. Experts at CIRCLE, a company with control solutions for managing families’ connected devices, and Dr. Delaney Ruston, parent, family physician, and creator of the award-winning film Screenagers, have put together some dos and don’ts of teaching responsible screen usage and how to model behavior for kids.

  • DO state your values as a family. “Those values become the backbone for the rules,” says Dr. Ruston. She and her family decided that they value creativity, competency, and connection. “Research shows that kids 8 to 18 years old spend just 3 percent of their time online creating—doing such things as creating music, writing blogs, or other such endeavors,” she notes. Because this is a value for her family, Dr. Ruston has rules around setting time for creative endeavors, online and off. “They are the things I want to make sure my kids get in ‘real life’ and on screens as well.”
  • DON’T exclude kids from the rules convo. “The key around rules is getting their collaboration when possible, making sure they understand why there are rules and then adjusting them and checking in over time,” says Dr. Ruston. Want to get their buy-in on the whole rules idea? Let them have a say and then make a final judgement call. Limits help kids establish healthy digital habits so they can eventually self-regulate when you’re not in the room. Need help? Here are four key rules, including no devices in the bedroom or at meal times, that Dr. Ruston suggests on her blog.
  • DO say positives about screen time. “What I learned in the process of getting things to work better for our family is to say positives about screen time,” says Dr. Ruston. Kids love their online time and they’ll be able to talk to you about their experiences, good and bad, if they know that you value the benefits too (and don’t just see it as something to take away). Maintaining an open dialogue will make you feel more confident about how they’re managing their own screen time, too.
  • DON’T rush the phone thing. Many experts recommend waiting as long as possible before handing your child a smartphone in order to limit their exposure to online bullying and distractions from social media. “Take into account their age, personality, and development stage,” says Dr. Ruston. Some questions to ask yourself include: Will they follow your rules around phone use and can you trust them to be responsible with text, photos, and video?
  • DO bond over tech. Watch what they’re watching, encourage them to search topics that interest them, introduce them to quality content (check Common Sense Media for sources), and set controls on inappropriate sites with Circle Filters. “As parents, we want to be helping our teens to become more mindful of what are the things on screens that are promoting their emotional well-being, what are things that are not and how can they curate their experiences so they’re not as much exposed.”
  • DON’T tempt them with a digital “cookie.” “A lot of the rules around homework are more about how to do it in a space where there isn’t a chocolate chip cookie a click away,” says Dr. Ruston, meaning don’t allow smartphones near the work computer where they might be tempted to text friends or get distracted with “multi-tasking” or other scenarios where a child might be tempted to check in online when they should be eating, sleeping, or studying. “In fact, all the research behind behavior control is not that people are so much better at self control than others but they’ve just done better at either creating a habit, which takes work, or having less of the goodies at reach particularly during vulnerable times.”

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