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Screen time – a healthy approach

Your family’s relationship with screens: is it healthy? If your family has a healthy relationship with screens, you all use screens in ways that:
  1. are good for your family relationships
  2. meet your individual needs and interests
  3. are appropriate to your ages.
You can achieve a healthy family relationship with screens by talking about screen time together and agreeing on basic rules and principles for family screen use. Our five-step guide below can get your family off to a good start.

Step 1: role-model healthy screen use Your own screen use and how you talk about it sends powerful messages to your child about the place screens should have in family life. For example, if you switch your phone off at meal times, your child learns that focusing on family is very important to you. Keeping track of your screen use can help you understand the messages you might be sending. If your phone has a tracking feature, you could use this to track your use. You could ask your child to keep track as well. You and your child could compare your usage and talk about whether there’s anything you’d like to change. It’s also good to talk with your child about the apps you use, the people and groups you follow, or interesting things you’ve read. This helps to create a safe, trusting environment at home where it’s OK to talk openly about screen use.

Step 2: get to know your child as a technology user Getting to know your child as a technology user will help you understand your child’s technology interests, needs and worries. You can do this by asking your child to talk about how they use screens and what they use them for. You might find that your child uses screens in ways that you just don’t understand. You could ask your child to teach you a game so that you get a sense of why your child likes it so much.

Step 3: use good-quality content When using screens, stick to good-quality content that ties in with your child’s interests, sparks their imagination or builds on something they’re learning at school. Encourage your child to use good-quality apps, games, TV shows, movies and YouTube videos by talking together about the information, ideas and activities in the media your child is using. You can also help your child make informed choices by showing them how to find reliable reviews of digital media and content. It’s a good idea to let your child see you making good-quality choices about what you use or watch. Talking about your choices with your child is important too. There are probably many screens in your home, so be aware of what your child might be seeing. For example, some images on the news or in video games can be quite violent and distressing, even for young children who don’t understand what they’re seeing.

Step 4: negotiate rules for family screen time and use Rules are a way of managing screen time and use. They can help everyone understand your family’s expectations about screen time and use.

Here are questions to help you negotiate family screen use rules:

  1. When and where can devices be used in your home? For example, in family rooms but not bedrooms?
  2. Are any particular websites, games or apps off limits? Which ones, and why?
  3. What information is OK to share online?
  4. Are there some games or movies that need to be saved until younger children have gone to bed?
  5. What happens if someone breaks the rules?
Your rules about screen use should be flexible enough to cover school days, weekends and holidays. The rules also need to take into account your child’s changing needs and interests as they grow and help your child to understand that there might be different rules for different family members, depending on age. It’s a good idea to revisit the rules every few months and whenever you introduce a new screen into your home. This helps you ensure the rules are still meeting everyone’s needs.

Step 5: use screens together Sharing screen time with your child can be a great way to build trust, connection and communication and strengthen your relationship. That’s because it gives you the chance to learn more about what interests your child. It also sends the message that these interests are important to you. Here are ideas for sharing screen time:

  1. Search online with your child for something that you’re both interested in – for example, a weekend activity, or a new recipe to cook for dinner.
  2. Play an ongoing game with your child, like online Scrabble. This is fun and can be something special that just the two of you do.
  3. Download a music app, then share and discuss the music you’re listening to.
  4. Get your child to teach you how to play an online game they enjoy, or take you on a ‘tour’ of their apps and favourite websites.
  5. Get active while using technology together – for example, go for a hike using a mapping app.