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Screens and Teens

We’ve seen images of teens and tweens gathered in crowds with their phones, eyes looking down, as they text and scroll. These images can be alarming. We want our children to be connected to their friends, and we recognize technology is a part of that connection, but what is healthy?

Some of the biggest questions that plague parents of teens and tweens revolve around screen time. We want to know what guidelines to set, how to keep our children safe, and how much screen time is too much.

Dr. Allison Wiesman, a pediatrician who has been practicing at Hancock Pediatrics in Greenfield for the past 11 years, has some words of wisdom for parents who may be asking themselves some of these challenging questions.

What are some guidelines that parents of teens and tweens can set for screen time?

This is tough because it varies. Parents should ensure plenty of sleep, physical activity and breaks from technology. Families should try to have media free-times together, as well as media-free zones, such as bedrooms. Kids should not sleep with devices in their bedrooms. When accounting for time to sleep, school work, doing extracurriculars and family time, see how many hours are available and make a screen time goal based on this. Of course the type of media that is being consumed is important. Is it educational and supporting friendships, or is it causing addictive tendencies or exposing them to harmful content?

How much screen time is too much?

Some teens with phones admit they are on it all waking hours. A plan should take into account the child’s age, health, personality and developmental stage. A few hours of something uplifting or educational may not be too much, but a few hours of a violent video game, or constant social media scrolling would. If a kid is struggling with self-esteem, addictive behaviors, poor friendships, obesity, risky behaviors or parent-child relationship concerns, reviewing how media is used and trying to cut back or modify what is allowed is reasonable.

How can parents stay on top of what their teens and tweens are watching online?

Parents need to make an effort to stay connected to their kids. They don’t need to preview every movie, book, text, app or YouTube video, but doing a quick search on commonsensemedia.org can be a starting point. Having guidelines ahead of time, especially in relation to something like movie or video game ratings, can curb arguments about fairness.

I would also recommend mutual ownership of device, application, usernames and passwords, and an understanding of reasons why a parent may be doing intermittent checking in, and the consequences if the rules aren’t followed. There should be regular check-ins of what they are doing and reviews of internet search history.

There are many guidelines for parental controls that parents should be aware of. Any time kids are accessing the internet, parents should give their best effort to prevent exposure or access (accidental or intentional) to inappropriate or illicit content, as well as keeping privacy and safety in mind. Consider filtering this at the WiFi level within the home. There also may be a parental control within the device, or other software or apps, to assist in this monitoring. Some of these options can also help track or control screen time.

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