By Dr. Aishwarya Deenadayalu, Metropolitan Pediatrics
As the parents of two daughters who are 11 and 12 years old and are starting 6th and 7th grades this fall, my husband and I have given much thought in regards to managing our children’s screen time, especially as remote learning resumes. We are trying to strike the delicate balance of giving our tweens the independence and responsibility that they developmentally appropriately seek in managing their own screen time, while still offering guidance and setting expectations as their parents. Here are some strategies I recommend that you consider as you help your own tweens to learn how to manage screen time:
Begin to have conversations about screen time with your tweens as a family.
Since many families are like ours and find themselves in a prolonged “first” experience with schooling from home, it is important for us all to give ourselves grace. As parents, we should expect to not have all of our rules in place immediately, and to be able to “tweak” rules if something is not working. Not surprisingly, the amount of time that our tweens spend in front of a screen now is considerably more than what we used to allow before Covid-19. I have gradually come to terms with this as I have realized that “not all screen time is created equal.”
I appreciate the value of my daughters’ screen interactions with friends, extended family members, teammates, teachers and coaches over these past several months. So, instead of having a rigid rule about the length of allowed screen time per day, I have learned that it is more meaningful for us to have conversations as a family to develop these rules together. The aim of our conversations is to come to agreed-upon expectations of how long our children will spend in front of a screen each day for the different purposes of academia, social interactions, and “down-time.”
Reiterate the importance of spending “screen-free” time each day.
In addition to addressing the specifics about “”screen time,” it is equally important for families to also discuss “non-screen times.” It is our responsibility as parents to encourage tweens to prioritize physical, mental and emotional health by physically exercising their bodies, engaging their minds without electronics, and interacting with others in-person.
Specifically, tweens should work towards 60 minutes of “moderate to strong” daily physical activity. They may consider physical activity one way in which they “de-stress,” but it is also valuable to discuss other activities by which they like to recharge themselves each day. Examples of these types of activities include reading, meditating, drawing or other creative endeavors.
The third essential part of the “non-screen” time discussion should include details of carving out family time. Spending time together as a family has countless benefits for both parents and children. Family time can mean having a screen-free meal together. I recommend asking your tween how they would like to spend family time. Since Covid began, our family has learned that we enjoy doing puzzles, making sushi, and stand-up paddleboarding together, because of suggestions made by our tweens.
Remember the importance of quality and quantity of sleep.
On average, 9-12 year olds should get approximately 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Plainly, this means that all screens should be charged outside of tweens’ bedrooms. In addition, I recommend that tweens not look at screens 30 to 60 minutes prior to bedtime, so that they have an opportunity to “disengage” from the mental stimulation of electronics, which can delay the onset of REM sleep. In addition, the blue light emitted from screens has been shown to suppress naturally occurring Melatonin, which can interfere with normal circadian rhythms.
Remember that as parents, we are our tweens’ role models.
Whether or not they admit it, tweens are watching our actions and take our cues on how to use screens responsibly. So, managing our own screen time is another way to help our kids’ manage theirs, and taking a break from screens is just as important for our own physical, mental, and emotional health, too.
Dr. Deenadayalu has been a pediatrician with Metropolitan Pediatrics at the NW Portland location since 2008. She and her husband are parents to two active daughters and an equally active 4-year-old Labradoodle. She begins each day with a run on the treadmill, enjoys searching for new recipes to cook for family and friends, and looks forward to the opportunity to travel and listen to live music again sometime in the future.