Managing Kids and Gadgets: 12 Screen Time Rules

The most important thing you can do for your child is give him or her free, unstructured and unplugged playtime and let him figure out what to do... with his imagination.
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Maybe you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for kids under the age of 2 and a maximum of two hours for kids over the age of 2.

Do iPads and iPhones Count?

But what about the Elmo apps on your phone, interactive ebooks on your tablet and Wii video games? Should there be limits set on those too? And what about older kids -- when is it okay for them to get on Facebook or own a smartphone? I recently spoke to Dr. Ari Brown as part of New Tech City, a segment on WNYC. Dr. Brown is a pediatrician in Austin and helped draft the AAP's screen time recommendations. She also has two teenagers.

The Rules

Here's what she suggests you do to manage your kids and their screen time:

1. Create a media strategy for your family and adjust it as your children age.

2. Limit media time on all screens (including interactive ones) to two hours a day, if possible.

3. Go into a device's setting and restrict access to content; "Don't throw your hands up in the air and say, 'Oh, my son knows more about technology than I do,'" says Brown.

4. Keep phones and tablets out of kids' bedrooms.

5. Put devices (including yours) "to sleep" in a kitchen basket, 30 minutes before bedtime.

6. Evaluate your own media use and set limits. "You are your child's role model and so if you cannot disconnect, how can you expect your child to disconnect?" says Brown.

7. Keep off all screens at dinnertime. (I'm SO guilty of this one. How else can I shovel in the spinach?)

8. Take stock of your teen's maturity before allowing them to join Facebook or other social media.

9. Let your child know you will be joining them on Facebook or other social media. Dr Brown suggests saying, "I'm going to browse occasionally and make sure you are making smart choices."

10. Accept that older teens need phones (especially if they drive) and middle schoolers might need phones (to help parents keep track of them).

11. Tell your children to think before they text -- only write what they would say to a friend's face.

12. Don't give your younger child a phone if you are always at pickup or drop-off.

Long-Term Effects?

What effect these gadgets will have on us in the long-term is unclear, says Dr. Brown. But we do know they potentially increase the incidence of childhood:

The Biggest Worry? Sleep

"Kids who have 1 device [or more] in their room are getting significantly less sleep because they are either staying up and using their devices, or because the actual light on those screens interferes with the circadian rhythms or because they are getting text and emails overnight that actually make noise and disrupt their sleep," says Brown.

Don't worry that restricting your kids will hinder them from keeping up with technology. This generation is born "tech native," explains Brown. For the little ones, it turns out plain old wooden blocks still make the best gift because they give children a tactile experience that even conceptual interactive games on screens can't replace.

My Biggest Lesson

"Your kids don't need to be entertained all the time," says Brown. In fact, the most important thing you can do for your child is give him or her free, unstructured, and unplugged playtime and let him figure out what to do... with his imagination. So put up with some nagging and let your kid enjoy the pleasures of being unscheduled.

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