8 Rules for Family Screen Time
Between computers, smartphones and tablets, families are racking up more screen time than ever. Here's how to set some boundaries and swap the screen time for face time.
All devices should be treated equal. It used to be that screen time meant TV time. But now that the average family has nearly two dozen screens under one roof, they must be treated the same. “Whether it's playing with an app on an iPad, watching a movie on TV, or playing a computer game, they are equally engrossing to kids,” says Tahnk. However, she adds that if a device is being used for an activity that's productive or educational, or fosters family interactivity—such as reading an eBook together—that shouldn't count against screen time.
“We don't have a TV. Once a week we'll watch a movie or a TV show online. Video games are allowed on the iPhone once or twice a week.”
—angie bona delp, via facebook
Monkey see, monkey touch, swipe, and drag. Nine out of ten Americans have seen people misuse technology. Translation: We are all offenders. Consider these two statistics from Intel's “2011 State of Mobile Etiquette” study: Forty-six percent of kids have seen Mom or Dad use the phone during dinner, and 49 percent don't see anything wrong with it. If the kids witness you doing it, they will assume it's approved behavior. Parents need to set an example as good digital citizens. That means no texting while driving (not even at red lights!), or it's safe to assume your kids will follow suit when it's their turn behind the wheel.
Make eye contact, not iContact. While doing research for her book Alone Together, Turkle met kids who complained about their parents being disconnected. “They talked about moms who bring their phones to bedtime, or coming out of school and the parent making a hand gesture instead of eye contact because they're finishing an e-mail.” Adds Tahnk: “I've seen parents pushing their kid on a swing with one hand and looking at the phone in the other.”
The result? Kids are disconnecting as well. “As a professor, I find that kids are having trouble making eye contact. They would rather send an e-mail than come by during office hours. Social skills are vanishing,” notes Turkle.
The answer: Make and maintain a connection, without pit-stopping for a tech interlude. Turkle adds that President Obama keeps a basket outside the Oval Office for BlackBerrys and iPhones. Cabot says, “Even at Yahoo!, you turn in your BlackBerry before going into a meeting.”
“I don't allow TV or video games during the day; if the sun is out, the technology is off.”
—amanda giersburg, via facebook
Establish electronic curfews. Creating “blackouts” encourages families to do things together and forces kids to get creative with their free time. With preschoolers, unplugging the power strip from the wall and claiming a “power failure” is an easy way to do it. For older kids, a more foolproof option we love is BreakTime, an app from myi (myi.com), a service that lets users customize their household's Internet usage. BreakTime allows families to put the Internet on hold for a length of time on any device (mobile phones, computers, gaming systems, tablets) that receives a connection.