Teaching Kids Healthy Technology Habits

Elementary age brother and sister watching video on tablet computer

As a parent, technology can be your best friend or worst enemy.

Electronic devices can be a good way to help kids connect with teachers, socialize with friends and entertain themselves. But too much screen time can lead to some health and developmental problems. Families are often readjusting screen time schedules and deciding how much tech is too much.

So how can you balance technology’s benefits and risks? Start by knowing how screen time may affect kids’ impressionable minds and growing bodies. Then set age-appropriate boundaries and encourage healthy activities that don’t involve smartphones, tablets, TVs or computers.

The steps you take now can help your kids have a healthy relationship with technology for life.

Setting screen time limits

Keep in mind that the concern isn’t just the time spent on technology, but also the context of what kids are seeing and doing. For instance, using an educational app or doing schoolwork can be a better use of technology than playing a violent video game.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends these guidelines for technology use:

  • Before 18 months: Very limited screen use with an adult present (for instance, video chatting with a family member).
  • 18-24 months: Very limited screen use allowing only high-quality educational digital media with an adult to help kids understand what they’re seeing.
  • 2-5 years: Up to one hour per day of interactive, high-quality programming (co-viewing with a parent is encouraged).
  • 6 years and older: In the past, a two-hour daily maximum was suggested. Now, experts say it’s more realistic to consider your child’s developmental stage and maturity. Create a time limit that works for your child and family. Enforce consistent rules about how and where they’re allowed to use devices. Make sure kids balance technology use with healthy behaviors, such as adequate sleep and physical activity.

Risks of overuse

Technology can make inappropriate content accessible to children with a few keystrokes or clicks of a remote control. But the risks of them consuming violent, sexual or drug-related content aren’t the only worries that electronic devices raise.

Physical and emotional problems can result with overuse, including:

  • Social-developmental delays as a result of spending less time interacting with family and friends.
  • Insufficient sleep, especially when a TV, computer or mobile device is kept in the bedroom. Light emitted by screens is similar to sunlight, which fools the body into thinking it’s daytime, leading to disrupted natural sleep-wake cycles. Even babies can be overstimulated by screens and miss out on sleep.
  • Obesity from being sedentary and spending less time playing outdoors.
  • Behavior and mood problems caused by issues such as watching content that’s scary, confusing or not age-appropriate.
  • Eye problems such as blurry vision, eye fatigue and dry eyes.
  • Academic difficulties caused by reading fewer books, getting lower grades and having shortened attention spans.
  • Poor self-image and body-image issues from seeing manipulated photos online.

What you can do?

Parents sometimes may be tempted to throw away their kids’ electronic devices. Of course, that’s not realistic in a world dependent on technology. But you can take sensible steps to help them and you. For instance:

  • Learn about and set parental controls on their devices.
  • Encourage daily device-free social interactions and make time for outdoor play.
  • Enforce appropriate screen-time regulations. Two ideas: No screens during meals, and devices off — and removed from bedrooms — 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Discuss online citizenship and safety, including how to respect others.
  • Monitor your kids’ online activity and make sure it’s age-appropriate. All content should be safe and free of hate speech and misinformation.
  • Model healthy screen-based behaviors, including limiting your own device use during interactions with your children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a customizable Family Media Plan to help families set priorities around the type(s) of media that matters most to them.