One of Netflix’s buzziest releases as of late is “The Social Dilemma.” The documentary-drama paints a dark portrait of how social media and living in the digital world is contributing to the downfall of democracy and humanity. As the credits roll, interviewees give final reflections and pieces of advice.
“Notice that many people in the tech industry don’t give these devices to their own children,” Center for Human Technology co-founder Tristan Harris said. He used to be a design ethicist for Google.
Others agreed. “We are zealots about it,” Tim Kendall said, a former Facebook executive and former president of Pinterest. “We don’t let our kids have really any screen time.”
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, was a little more lenient. He shared his three simple rules, noting such rules are justified by research:
- All phones are out of the bedroom by a fixed time (Example: half an hour before bedtime)
- No social media until high school (He personally thinks age 16 is best)
- Work out a time budget with your kids (“How many hours do you want to spend?”)
Screens should not be used as pacifiers
It’s hard to escape devices in the millennial era, especially under pandemic circumstances. However, it is crucial to moderate screen time, even for adults. Looking at children, it is important to keep in mind that too much or poor quality screen time is linked to irregular sleeping, obesity, behavioral problems, loss of social skills and violence. The Mayo Clinic explains a “one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work” well as your child grows.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use, aside from video chatting, for kids under age 2. If you do end up introducing screen time when your child is in this age range, the Mayo Clinic emphasizes to not allow solo media use and that the media is high quality. By the time your child is a toddler, screen time should be kept to one hour per day. Fast-paced programming should be avoided and advertising on apps should be eliminated (thank goodness for ad block!).
Other moderation tactics include previewing games and apps, finding interactive options, using parental controls to filter internet searches, keeping your child nearby while they use a device, chatting with your child about the games and apps they play and discussing the advertising you see if you are watching programming together.
Finding balance in digitally-driven world
Rules evolve with age, as does screen use. For older kids, the Mayo Clinic recommends prioritizing unplugged playtime, creating tech-free zones (think dinner time), setting daily or weekly screen time limits and curfews, using apps that control the amount of time a device is used, requiring kids charge their devices outside of the bedroom at night, eliminating background TV and limiting your own screen time. As Mayo Clinic says, “Consider that your child is watching you for cues on when it’s OK to use screens and how to use them.”
Youth digital media use expert Dr. Devorah Heitner explained to NPR that the key is “mentoring” not “monitoring:” “They need to understand why their kids are using devices and what their kids get out of those devices so they can help the kids shift their habits.” It’s also important to remember that parents feeling distanced from their teens is a normal part of growing up; it’s not a result of cell phones. What kids create and consume on the internet is part of their identity. Also, discussing digital literacy is always worth the conversation. False information on the internet does not discriminate by age and learning how to spot what is real and factual is good for everyone.