Age-Appropriate Screen Time Limitations for Young Children
The home computer should be a safe space for enhancing the learning process, and maybe even some reasonable entertainment as well.
The first two articles in my Age-Appropriate Screen Time Limitations series are relevant to me because I’m currently raising a baby girl. During the first year of my daughter’s life, she was definitely attracted to mama’s iPhone, but it wasn’t too hard to get her attention onto something else. In her second year, it’s becoming harder because she now associates mama’s iPhone with the people she sees on FaceTime — like Dada for example. As a matter of fact, Dada spends a decent amount of time away from home so FaceTime has proven very useful. But since real-time experiences are much more important to our family, FaceTime is only reserved for special occasions — like when Dada travels.
To recap, the correct amount of tech-time for babies under 2 years old is no tech-time at all. However, since an occasional slip-up is likely to occur, a more realistic recommendation (in my opinion) is to limit tech-time to the absolute minimum. Since the absolute minimum might be different from person to person, I’ll give an example. If my daughter somehow gets her hands on my iPhone — or any other screen, I don’t take it away from her immediately. I let her play around with it for a minute or two — just like any other toy, then I replace it with something else. If my goal is to help my child develop a healthy relationship with tech, it’s not in my best interest to reinforce a negative association. At the same time, she definitely does not get free reign over the device. If she starts to act up, it’s time to distract her with something else — like her toy iPhone (which she already knows is fake).
The correct amount of tech-time for toddlers and pre-schoolers is still no tech-time at all. However, if parent(s) do decide to introduce tech-time, it should be on a limited basis — like the aforementioned use of FaceTime for reasonable purposes. In this age range, try not to exceed more than 20 -30 minutes at a given time and try not to exceed more than one hour per day.
Now, I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t see into the future, but I do understand how things might get tricky as children reach grade school age. Without question, children ages 6 – 12 will be familiarized with tech-time as a part of their learning process, if not more. The current challenge for this age group is finding a healthy balance between tech-time and real-time experiences. Luckily for me, time is on my side because my daughter is several years away from entering this age group. I’m confident that reasonable minds will have better answers in the coming years. If not, it’s okay because I know my home computer better than my child does — or is going to. This is mainly because of parental controls.
Familiarize yourself with Parental Controls:
On a serious note, children in this age-range will likely need to use a home computer for several things, including homework assignments. If set up right, the home computer should be a safe space for enhancing the learning process, and maybe even some reasonable entertainment as well. To make sure the home computer is used only for beneficial purposes, parental controls need to be in place. Luckily for parents, parental controls aren’t difficult to set up at all — especially on an iMac or a MacBook. The process can be time consuming and a bit tedious, but the results are worth it. In a future article, I’ll go over the process of successfully implementing Microsoft Family — for PC users, but for now I’ll keep the focus on Apple products because of their extreme popularity.
On your macBook or iMac, Parental Controls can be found under the System Preferences icon, but you can use Spotlight to locate it directly — or locate anything else on your computer for that matter. To use Spotlight, press the command button and the space bar, then simply type in Parental Controls. From there, the password of the system administrator can be entered to make desired changes. In this case, the system administrator is the person who owns the computer.
Once the system administrator gains access to Parental Controls, new users can be created. If several users intend to use the home computer, a separated account can be created for each user. When a new account is created, it will appear at the login screen. The user only needs to enter the correct password to gain access with their own account.
But here’s the kicker, the system administration can control almost every aspect of another users experience on the home computer. All the system administrator has to do is select the desired user and she can control everything from the websites the user can visit, to time limits, camera access, and the use of apps already stored on the hard drive. The system administrator can also restrict access to potential money suckers like the App Store, iTunes store, and Game Center. And if you think your bank/credit accounts are safe from the online exploits of your children, you should probably think again.
In the meantime, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when you first gain access to parental controls because there’s a lot going on. However, it makes sense to figure it out for the sake of your child’s online safety. I’m not suggesting that the use of parental controls is the exact answer to the issue of children developing healthy relationships with tech, but it’s a proactive measure. If nothing else, the resulting piece of mind of knowing you’re child won’t be able to get into trouble online should be well worth the effort.
Other considerations for this age group:
Should you give your child her own cellphone? — The New York Times recently published an article entitled: A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley. As it turns out, tech industry workers in Northern California are going to great lengths to keep smartphones away from their children altogether. Athena Chavarria of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: “I’m convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.” This statement sounds a bit tongue-and-cheek, but the “devil” usually resides in the details, and maybe even in our cellphones — apparently.
Outside of Silicone Valley, maybe in our own neighborhoods, the “cool thing to do” might be to give children cellphone access at an early age. However, we should probably take a hint from the tech workers who have hands-on experience working with these devices. Several tech industry executives — not only Ms. Chavarria, and even industry CEO’s didn’t give cellphones to their children until they reached high school age. If that’s not enough to convince you, even Steve Jobs wouldn’t let his kids anywhere near digital devices — and he basically created them.
Will restricting access to digital devices stifle creativity? — In the same article, Renee DiResta of the Center for Humane Tech gives some insight into making screen time less toxic. She’s currently raising two kids under the age of five and she’s encouraging computer programming as a part of their young learning process. As she does this, she separates the different types of screen use and explains it to her children. For example, “Playing a building game is allowed, but watching a YouTube video is not, unless it is as a family.”
From my perspective, I’m not quite convinced that all screen use is a slippery slope that leads to the influence of the “devil” — to use Ms. Chavarria’s suggestion. When it comes to artistic expression, some of the most creative people I know are UX or graphic designers and several of them are making a good living while pursuing their passion. I’d have to assume that most Millennial designers — the ones in my own age group — didn’t have early access to their craft because it didn’t really exist. Many of them learned to program as they got older and they turned out just fine. However, things are totally different for Gen Z because of the unprecedented access to tech never before seen in previous generations. The obvious questions from here are: How young is too young to get started? And can children effectively pursuit a passion for programming and other tech related activities without getting sidetracked by the internet and all of its offerings?
Don’t let cyberbullies get away with it! — From ages 6 – 12, your child will likely encounter bullying (in some form) for the first time. Bullying, in all forms, is never acceptable. Therefore, children should be taught to stand up to bullying wherever it’s encountered, either online or offline — no matter how difficult it may be. Author and parenting expert, Lisa Damour, suggests: “Your child’s online life mimics his/her offline life.” Simply put, if a child is a bully at school, chances are the child will be a cyberbully as well.
StopBullying.gov offers the following warning signs of cyberbullying and much more:
- Noticeable increases or decreases in device use, including texting.
- A child exhibits emotional responses (laughter, anger, upset) to what is happening on their device.
- A child hides their screen or device when others are near, and avoids discussion about what they are doing on their device.
- Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear.
- A child starts to avoid social situations, even those that were enjoyed in the past.
- A child becomes withdrawn or depressed, or loses interest in people and activities.
In this and previous articles, Dr. Maria Pribis shared advice on how to help young children develop healthy relationships with tech. In her last article of this series, she’ll address issues facing teenagers in today’s digital world.