We are experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis and our children and teens have been impacted the most. A February 2023 Texas Children’s Hospital report showed mental-health-related emergency room visits for Houston children and teens was up 800%. The U.S. Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association have recently come out with strong warnings for parents about social media use for children and teens. Social media includes traditional platforms like Tik-Tok, Snapchat, and Instagram, as well as sites like YouTube, and interactive video games. “Social-media platforms pose "a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children," according to U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. I encourage you to read these reports. Many issues are discussed, including the amount of time spent on social media and unhealthy content.
A limited amount of age-appropriate screentime can be enjoyable and relaxing, but too much takes away from development of healthy activities. The content of social media is another concern. Preteens and teens are being exposed to harmful content which include everything from overt instructions for self-harm, sexualizing, and use and creation of harmful substances, to the more subtle but equally devastating influences of unrealistic physical expectations, lack of sleep, and overall negativity. And, of course, there is much more. My office is flooded with issues quickly traced back to unhealthy use of screens.
So, what is a parent to do?
The solution is fairly simple but not always easy. The older your children, and the more access they’ve had to private use of technology, the harder it will be. But, take heart. These suggestions can work and can make a positive, long-term difference for your child. The key to this system is that you don’t “take away” screens. You simply add other healthy activities so screen time is naturally minimized. It’s all about BALANCE.
1. Decide the Amount of Screentime That is Right for Your Child I like to use this "Sample Leisure-TIme Diet" pie chart. It’s based on coming up with categories of types of activities that make a healthy lifestyle, develop confidence and self-esteem, and foster emotional health. You’ll see that screen time is only a small part of available time. While I like to use a percentage of “free time” (not school or structured activities) to create this chart, on days with no structured activities, like weekends, you also need to determine a maximum amount of screentime. For example, on weekdays when there are camps and/or organized sports there will be less available time, and 10% so that 30 minutes would be available for screentime. But on weekends with no structured activities, 10% might be too much, so you might cap it at 2 hours.
2. Have a Family Meeting and Tell Your Children About "The New Normal" They will push back at first but stand firm. Remember, you are the parent and you know what is best for your child.
3. Work With Your Children to Create an Ongoing List of Non-screen Options Some easy and fun ones are: art/crafts, creating forts/plays/etc, writing, music, sports, outdoor adventures, building models/puzzles/blocks, cooking, baking, science experiments, gardening … the list is endless. When they are “bored” direct them to these ideas.
If you need more help, check out my parenting video workshop, Conative Parenting, which has a section on how to work through screentime parenting issues.
You’ve got this!