I’ve made some additions to my screen use suggestions below, so please take time to review them. A few things I really want to highlight because of current situation in society is 1) If you think you need to, this is a great time to set new expectations in your family around screen time. Sometimes it takes a big life change to adjust our patterns. You could use our current circumstances as this time. 2) Definitely set screen use limits in your home for your children and yourself given the amount of time you will be home. For older children, you should include them in the conversation about how much time everyone should be on screens as this gets more buy-in. Without setting these limits we know that the screens are likely to take over everyone’s time. 3) Remember that, within limits, screen time can be a great way to socialize right now. Watching shows together and playing videogames together is a great way to bond as a family. And, as long as it is supervised or you can hear what is going on, allowing the older students the chance to play videogames online with their friends (not strangers) can be a great way for them to stay connected while we are in a time when we have to keep our social distance.
We have all seen an increase in the time students are spending in front of screens (phones, tablets, TV’s, computers, video games, etc). We’ve all been in places where we see entire families or groups of friends sitting together looking at their phones/tablets rather than interacting and two year olds begging for their parent’s cell phone. I am guessing we’ve all thought about the question, “How is all of that screen time impacting children, families, and relationships?”
More and more research is being done regarding the impact screen time has on people. In the article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” from the Atlantic, generational researcher and author, Jean Twenge, found, “There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.” (While the article is on the longer side, it is worth every minute to read. The link is at the end of this letter). As a school that has computers in every classroom and individual computers for each student starting in 3rd grade, this is something we have thoughtfully discussed. We see a lot of value in using technology strategically to enhance a child’s education, but we also want to make sure we use it in a limited fashion. We want to make sure we are teaching our students to be creators with the technology, not consumers. It is very important to us that the students not spend too much time on computers at school (or at home), and that screen time does not get in the way of people time. We hope that your family will engage in the same discussions at home.
Here are a few family guidelines that I would like to pass along for families to consider as you discuss what you want your family rules to be around screens. (It is important to remember that a smart phones are not just phones, but are computers connected to the internet and all that the internet offers.)
- Put a filter and parental controls on all your devices: This is just good practice so children are not exposed to inappropriate content and you can monitor their activity.
- Set a screen time limit: Whether it’s daily (i.e. 30 minutes a day), weekly (i.e. 5 hours a week), or conditional (i.e. you get screen time after you…) set a limit on screen time and hold everyone to it.
- No Device Dinner: Family meal times are extremely important. TV’s, phones, tablets, all get in the way of the conversations families can have during that time. Nobody, including adults, should be allowed to bring a screen to any meal.
- No screens in the car: There are two reasons for this. First, I always recommend to parents that they volunteer to be the drivers for their child’s, and their friend’s, activities because it is amazing what students will talk about in the back seat of a car. The children forget an adult is driving. Overhearing those conversations provides a great window into what goes on in your child’s life. In the car is also a time where you can have that precious uninterrupted time with your children (or family) to talk about how life is going and connect with each other. Second, recent brain research is informing us of how important “down time” or “bored time” is to the brain’s development. It is during those down times when you are staring out the window or waiting in line that the brain builds connections to all of the learning that happened that day. The car can be a great place for this. Today many children get in the car and immediately go on their phones. When they do that, it takes away from time for interactions as well as time for the brain to grow.
- Absolutely NO screens in the bedroom: This one changes as the children get older. I feel that, at the elementary level, there is never a time where a student should be alone in their room with a screen. Today, computers and phones are a window to the world and all the world has to offer, both the good and bad. Obviously, as children get older, this rule will need to be adjusted because of homework demands, but screens behind closed doors is always a bad idea. Every family situation is different and you will have to make this decision as a family. No matter where the screen is, however, the screen should always be easily visible to the parent.
- No phones, ever, in the room at night. This is here because some people use their phones as alarm clocks. People make poorer decisions as the night goes on. Children struggle with this even more. If you allow your child to have their phone in their room because it is an alarm clock, get them an alarm clock and take the phone out of the room at night (best is to have it in your room where you can see if anything is happening). I think this rule should not change no matter what age a child is.
- Get a Family Cell Phone Basket or Common Charging Station: Having a place where people put their cell phones when they come in the door lets your whole family know that relationships with those present are what is the most important. This helps keep people from being on their phones rather than engage in relationships with those present. This also provides a place for your child’s friends to put their cell phones when they visit so that when the children are playing they are doing so together and not just playing side by side on their individual screens.
- Wait on Social Media: No elementary student needs to be on social media (facebook, snapchat, etc.). There is even a growing body of research questions whether middle schoolers should even be social media. In addition to the fact that the law requires someone to be 13 to be on social media, studies are beginning to show the numerous negative impacts of social media on children, especially girls, before they are mature enough to handle it. In elementary school, they are not mature enough and should not be on social media.
- Sign a family tech use agreement: You can get ones that are already made (see commonsensemedia.org for some great resources), or create your own. These agreements should be signed by everyone in the household, child and adult, so everyone is held accountable.
- Make Screens Social: Whether it is watching a TV show or playing a videogame, resist the urge for everyone in the house to be on their own device and use the screen as a family time. There is a lot of great bonding and conversation that can come from watching a show together or playing a videogame together. When you, as the adult, takes time to engage with your child in their videogames, it demonstrates to your child that you are interested in them and their interests which goes a long way in building a positive relationship. I can also pretty much guarantee that you’ll end up with some humorous stories and fun memories afterward of how your child destroyed you in the game.
- Wait Until 8th: Resist getting your child a cell phone until as late as possible (thankfully, in response to all of the research, there is a growing movement in the country to wait until at least 8th grade). If you feel an absolute need to get them a phone before 8th grade or high school (when my children will get their phones), either do not make it a smart phone, or put enough parental controls on it to limit who they can call/text, the apps they can put on their phone, and shut off the internet on the phone all together (thankfully parental controls are great now so you can have a lot of control over what your child can do on their phone – see commonsensemedia.org). The other option is something like a Gizmopal – a watch that only calls a limited number of people. Over the years we have found that elementary students are not mature enough to handle a smart phone of their own, the access to the internet and social media, most of the apps and especially texting appropriately. Students are not missing out on anything by waiting until later to have a phone that does all of that. At the elementary level, they only need to make a phone call. Some people argue that children these days need a phone because everyone texts so they need to text their friends. There is more and more research coming out about the detrimental impacts of children using texts to communicate and how it is impairing their ability to interact. As parents we need to start thinking twice about how early we get our children a phone (or give them our old ones) and make the best decisions for our own children, and not give in to what “everyone” in society is doing.
Even if you don’t adopt these recommendations, my hope is that these rules will at least spark a conversation in your family about screen time and help us start challenging the norm. Setting limits now, when your children are in elementary school, will make setting the limits when they are older much easier, help establish healthy habits as a family along the way, and teach our students about the importance of relationships and face to face time. We also want to make sure that as our children get older, we can begin handing them more and more responsibility. If you just give them full reign now, you cannot do this later on. Children need our limits to not only thrive now, but also feel more responsibility as we give them more freedoms as they get older. Finally, remember that children look to their parents as examples. We have to behave as we want our children to behave.
Like mentioned above, if you are looking for a great online source for setting family rules and expectations for screen time and online behavior, commonsensemedia.org, is a great resource. Enjoy using your screens responsibly to have fun and enhance your relationships, rather than allowing them to get in the way.
If you have any questions or thoughts you want to share, please give me a call. I am a parent in this with you and appreciate the conversations.
Proud Principal of Tularcitos Elementary School