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Research shows that when children are "plugged in" all the time, they're not as happy as kids who spend less time using media and technology. The parenting challenge is not to prevent children from using media and technology, but to achieve a healthy balance between the time spent connected to technology and having it unplugged at home. Developing a family media policy is an excellent way to achieve balance in the amount of time your children spend on cell phones, watching TV and using computers. 

When creating a family media policy, we recommend starting with the T.I.M.E. acronym:

T = Talk. The first and most important step parents can take in deciding how their families should interact with technology is to talk with each other about what role it should play in their home. Explain that the family media policy will outline who can use a cell phone, computer and TV in the home; where that technology can be used; when kids can and can't use that technology; and what content can and can't be texted, tweeted, chatted, searched and viewed.

I =Instruct. Parents are their children's first and best teachers. Discuss your family media use policy with your children, and lay out clearly defined consequences for violating the policy. Remind your kids that technology is a privilege, not a right. 

M =Monitor. Don't be afraid to monitor what your children are texting, tweeting, watching and doing while they are on their cell phones, iPads and computers. Use a good software program to block content and track what your children say and do online. Tell your children that you're monitoring them, and make sure they understand that it's to ensure they're staying safe online.

E =Encourage. Praise your children when you notice them doing something positive online, such as when they complete a research project and earn a good grade, or when you come across a chat or text conversation in which your child has clearly encouraged or helped a friend in a positive way. Always be on the lookout to catch your kids being good online.

Personalizing Your Policy

Nobody knows or loves your kids quite like you do. A personalized family media use policy sets the ground rules for media consumption in your home and gives your children clear, loving parameters to operate within. Deciding with whom, when, where and what your children do on their devices is an important step in helping them become responsible, honest and caring adults.

After you choose the items that make the most sense for your family, click submit and get a free customized printout your family can reference regularly.

  • Screen-Free Zones

    What is screen time? Simply put, the amount of time a person spends in front of a screen. Screens include:

    • TVs
    • Computers
    • Individual gaming devices
    • Video games
    • Tablets
    • Cell phones

    Determining screen-free zones in your house set expectations on when technology time is acceptable and when it is not.

    No technology allowed in these areas:

  • Screen Time Limits

    In October 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued these updated recommendations for media limitations:

    • Birth to 18 months: Avoid screen time other than video chatting.
    • 18 to 24 months: Limited high-quality programming (e.g., PBS) with a parent present to help children understand what they are viewing.
    • 2 to 5 years: One hour of high-quality screen time per day, with parent present to help children understand and apply what is seen in relation to the world around them.
    • 6 years and older: Place consistent screen time limits, with special attention to ensure that media is not taking the place of adequate sleep, physical activity or face-to-face social interaction. Two hours or less of screen time is generally recommended.

    Excessive screen time has been linked to:

    • Poor school performance
    • Obesity
    • Diabetes
    • Behavioral issues

    Remember, parents serve as role models. Tech overuse isn’t just a problem affecting young people. Parents often forget how influential their habits are. Simply put, when parents are chained to their smartphones, their kids will be, too. When parents unplug, kids are more likely to do the same. Model what you want to see.

    How much technology is too much?

  • Technology Alternatives

    It’s one thing to limit screen time; it’s another to provide opportunities for kids to be productive. From reading and exercising to simply spending time with family and friends, children need clear alternatives. They also need to understand the connection between those alternatives and other goals that are important to them. Kids should have at least an hour of physical movement each day that gets the heart beating faster and no more than an hour or two of inactivity at a time. Customize a list of activities your kids enjoy doing to replace technology:

    Things to do instead of technology:

  • Keeping Kids Safe

    Anything on your child’s social media accounts is open to possible public scrutiny and it’s important that you know what your child is posting.

    That means whatever your children put on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media site is public and searchable. So if kids are posting embarrassing pictures or making crude comments, those pictures and comments are not secret or sacred and should be avoided.

    Making decisions about what information can be shared and what should stay secret is a skill that takes time to develop. Unfortunately, many youth have not mastered this skill when it comes to using social networks. It’s up to parents to teach their kids what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate, and then monitor their messages.

    Talk with your kids about the dangers of connecting with strangers online. Talk candidly about the reality that everything they do or say on social networking sites can be kept and used against them later in life. Discuss how what they do and say online can either help or hurt others. Talk about the types of websites you do and don’t want them visiting.

    Make sure you have the password or access rights to all of your children’s social media accounts.

    These are apps I am allowed to use. My parents must know my username and password at all times:

  • Expectations and Consequences

    Establish appropriate consequences, both positive and negative, for technology and media usage. Communicate those consequences clearly and often to your kids.

    Children should earn their daily screen time by being good family members and citizens every day, meaning they independently (without help or reminders) complete their chores and homework, consistently make it easy for you to be the unchallenged leader of the family and follow the Golden Rule with their siblings and other children. Parents have a job and kids have their job, and their job is to consistently and increasingly be independent, respectful and helpful.

    Select consequences that are appropriate for your kids and identify when they will earn them. The key here is your child is in control. If expectations are clear and up front, consequences should not come as a surprise.

    Positive Consequences

    Given when:

    Positive rewards include:

    Negative Consequences

    Given when:

    Negative consequences include:

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