We are aware of the dangers of smartphone use in children, yet most parents will eventually succumb to the pleas of their child and either let them have access to one or buy them their own phone. Managing smartphone use is the next best defense against the potential negative impact that this form of technology can have on your child’s developing brain.
- The first golden rule around screen time is that children under the age of two should not be allowed screen time at all, and very minimally in short bursts of time of a few minutes at a time if it cannot be avoided – as it can have harmful long term effects, particularly on their vision
- For children between 2 and 5, screen time should be kept to an absolute minimal – smartphones used for communication only. But again if there are times where they do use it, be mindful to only let them use it for a few minutes at a time
- Ensure that you have quality face to face interactions with your children. Try to entertain them through attention and play rather than giving them a smartphone or tablet to play with.
- There should be designated times during the day when smartphones are not allowed such as mealtimes, family time and bedtime. During these times make sure you initiate and maintain quality conversation and really engage with your children.
- Smartphones make excellent rewards and you can use the smartphone as a treat when your children have completed homework and chores. But make sure you limit the time your child is allowed to spend using the phone.
- Look for apps and games that promote learning and skills such as communication, vocabulary, problem solving skills and mathematics. If your child is going to have screen time try to make it educational.
- Make sure that you keep smartphone use out of the bedrooms. Children who go to bed with their smartphones often stay up far later than their bedtimes and may engage in social interactions that could be dangerous.
- As parents we also need to ensure that we model positive smartphone use. It is no good telling your kids that they are not allowed to use their phones, but you are constantly on your phone.
- Sleep research, and our experience working with allot of children having sleep issues suggests, that children and adults should have at least one or two hours of screen-free time before they try to go to sleep. This is because smartphones and other devices with screens emit alot of light, and it’s particularly the blue frequency range of light that screens emit that work against our natural sleep cycle and reduces the amount of melatonin (the natural ‘sleepy hormone’) that our brains release. This means that if children are watching screens in the last 2 hours before they go to bed, they will not naturally feel as tired, therefore it will be more difficult for them to fall asleep and you may have many more challenges getting them to go to sleep. Also, as the activities on smartphones and devices are so immediately rewarding and engaging, there aren’t many kids who don’t get upset or feel disappointed when they have to get off their device to go to sleep! Many families find they save themselves allot of bedtime battles and get their kids to bed earlier when they implement a no screen-time before bed policy, and often kids learn to enjoy this period of ‘quiet time’ activities with their parents.
Smartphones are amazing, handy pieces of technology that will always be in our lives. It is little wonder our children want access to them (let’s face it most adults are attached to their phones). As parents, we can teach our children about appropriate technology use with some simple rules, boundaries and more helpful daily habits.
For more tips, you can visit www.changespsychology.com.au