Kids and Screen Time

    Straight talk from a parenting expert.

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    Q: We have two children, a 9-year-old boy and a 14-year old girl. It’s becoming harder to monitor what movies they watch and video games they play as they start to spend more time with friends. We are not comfortable with some choices that have been made while not under our direct supervision and don’t want our children exposed to the violence in some of today’s video games and movies. Screen time also seems to be interfering with our family time together. Thoughts?

    A: We hear so much about it when they are younger but then, once the tween years come, it seems like there isn’t as much guidance and it can feel like a losing battle. It doesn’t have to be and it’s important for you to stay involved. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids under two be completely screen-free and that all other kids have no more than two hours of screen time a day. Screen time is defined as time in front of a television, computer for play (not work or homework or school work), and/or video games. With children having hand-held tech gadgets, phones, and families having DVD players in their vehicles, those two hours may be eaten up before the family even sits down to watch a television program together. And like you mentioned, how can you monitor what they are watching when they are not directly in front of you? Open honest communication with clear limits is what I recommend. If you can establish the habit of limiting screen time, especially at your home, your children will have a solid foundation to take with them when they are away from you. Make clear and consistent rules for screen time such as only an hour a day during the school week and no screens in their personal bedroom. A docking station for phones and hand held devices makes it easier to monitor at night. For instance, at nine o’clock, all devices have to be charging downstairs on the kitchen counter. This allows you to monitor their exposure but also helps instill in your children a balance – if they still have time before lights out, they can read, draw, journal or find another acceptable activity.

    In terms of content, I highly recommend viewing games and movies prior to your children but if that isn’t possible, definitely use other resources. There are many websites that review games, movies and television shows. One is commonsensemedia.org. It is important to learn about the kind of content and not simply go by the rating system. The level of violence in games and movies has been increasing but the rating systems remain the same. In terms of the violence in today’s media, help them to understand that repeated exposure to violent realistic images can make them be less empathetic and less affected by violence. This is called desensitization and has been shown to occur in children who are regularly exposed to violent images on the screen. If there is violence – either in a game or in a movie, discuss the violence with them. Ask them what purpose the violence plays and what their thoughts are about it. Explain to them what your reaction is and why you don’t like the violence. With your children maturing and having more independence, you want to keep talking about your family values and expectations. This helps children make the right decisions when faced with situations with their peers. Role-play different situations to help your kids figure out what to say to friends when an off-limits video game or R-rated movie is suggested. This will help empower your children.

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    Denise Noble
    Denise Noble is a mom of two and has master’s degree in counselor education. She is affiliated with famrichmond.org, the parenting education arm of Greater Richmond SCAN, and has coached parents and worked with families for nearly twenty years.