First, a good (though with far too many hyperlinks, as usual – a bugbear of mine, with good reason, as it’s distracting…) post from Parenting for a Digital Future: Why The Very Idea of Screen Time is Muddled and Misguided. It makes the important point that “screen time” means so many different things, from texting a friend to reading a book, from doing homework to posting photos on social media, and much more, that most headlines and guidelines fall short of being terribly robust. There can be no one rule about screen time. We need to look closely at what each bit of screen time involves. Some is more beneficial and others more problematic.
Next, a very comprehensive (long!) document called the Ultimate Parent Guide for Protecting Your Child on the Internet from BPNMentor. It’s not clear who wrote it and whether there are any conflicts of interest, but it contains useful stuff. A downside is that it talks about “kids” usually without specifying the age, so make sure you adapt any advice to the age of your child. I’d say this is mostly useful for the explanations and information, more than the strategies. Useful infographics, too, and I say that as someone who doesn’t like infographics. (Thanks to a reader for sending this to me.)
A very useful Parent’s Guide to Online Safety, from Best VPN.
Finally, and importantly, there’s Families and Screen Time: current advice and emerging research from the LSE Media Project. This is a deep and balanced document which is well worth reading. At the end you’ll also find several pages of specific advice and strategies for parents from a range of different organisations, including, fascinatingly, a breakdown of the evidence that informs each set of guidelines, to what extent they differentiate different types of screen time or user (eg by age) and how the advice is orientated.
As an aside: at a parent talk recently, a parent asked how she could stop her 14yo boy going on Snapchat. We got into quite a discussion, with other parents joining in. Thing is, her son’s friends are all on Snapchat, he’s 14 and he needs to be doing what they’re doing, and socialising with them, which she acknowledged. If she bans him, he’ll go on it anyway and when he sees something that worries him or something upsetting happens, he won’t be able to go to her for help, because she’s banned him. So banning isn’t a realistic or helpful option. It closes down communication.
My general advice about screen time in a nutshell:
- Don’t measure hours: instead, make sure your child/teenager has enough physical exercise, face-to-face social time, sleep, work and hobbies, and then it’s fine if the rest of the time is on screens
- Don’t be too strict – keep communication open. Discuss, don’t demonise.
- Remember that not being on social media brings problems for young people – they need to associate with their friends and do what they’re doing; they’ll suffer if they’re excluded
- Encourage your child/teenager to become self-aware and to acknowledge when something doesn’t feel good – and then to switch off and walk away
- Make rules for the whole family – everyone puts screens away after a certain time at night and doesn’t switch on till morning
- Be a safety-net, not a helicopter
The Teenage Guide to Life Online comes out in June!