Do you ever watch your child on their screen and wonder “Is this OK? How do I know if their screen time is harming them?” As busy parents, we try to find that “magic number” of safe screen time hours, while our kids push for more and more. This anxiety exists because we don't know how to find that magic number, yet we all know that too much screen time isn't good for our kids. What do we do?
The good news is that we do have a way to gauge when screen time veers into unhealthy territory. Instead of looking for the magic number, watch your child's behavior. Because of the way that screen time affects brain chemistry, how children act can be the best indicator of whether they are being negatively impacted by their time online.
Here are 5 behaviors to watch out for:
1. Your child becomes angry at log-off time. It’s normal for children to be disappointed when screen time is over, and even to try to get in a few extra minutes. However, intense anger at log-off time is a red flag. Young children may throw tantrums, older kids may become hostile, defiant or sneak screen time. These behaviors may indicate that your child is hooked and could benefit from less screen time.
2. Your child can’t think of anything else to do. It is normal for kids to complain about being bored, especially during long summer days. However, if your child cannot think of anything to do other than screen time, and constantly asks for screen time, your child is communicating that they have an unhealthy level of screen time. Their brain may be 'thirsty' for the stimulation of screen time and thus uninterested in other activities.
3. Your child is in a bad mood after screen time. Eye rubbing and some grumpiness are to be expected as your child transitions from screen time. However, if your child’s post-screen time grumpiness lasts, or they become unusually distant, somber or irritable, they may be communicating that something troubling is happening online. Maybe they are feeling overwhelmed by their games, left out in a group chat, bullied or publicly criticized on social media. A check-in is warranted at a minimum.
4. Your child begins to neglect important parts of life. For kids to stay emotionally and mentally healthy, they need to regularly engage in basic non-screen time areas of life. If you notice that screen time interferes with their ability to get schoolwork done, complete their chores, hang with their family and friends in person, pursue their hobbies, eat, sleep or even sit and chill for a few moments, they are communicating that screen time has reached an unhealthy level.
5. Your child is engaged in dangerous online content. The online world is full of content that is inappropriate or even dangerous for children. If you find your child conversing with strangers, deep into porn, on websites that promote harmful behaviors (eating disorders, violence, self-harm, drug use etc) this is a clear sign that your child’s screen time is harming them. Take immediate steps to remove access and seek professional help if needed to keep your child safe.
If you see any of these five behaviors, dial back their screen time. If these behaviors are not a problem, most likely you are in a safe zone of screen time. You can relax, let them enjoy some time online, and take a much earned break yourself!
Navigating screen time with children is tough for most parents. If you need some extra help setting up an effective plan and/or teaching your child the skills needed for healthy and responsible screen time, we invite you to learn more about our program. We got you covered!
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About Beyond Limits Academy
Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents and preteens how to prepare for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.
End the constant screen time battles, we'll show you how!