There are powerful resources to help your family develop a science-based plan to help ensure your children’s health needs are met, and to help them to make good choices during their recreational time. It’s important to help teach children why the things we ask of them matter, and then to model good behaviors and habits.
A terrific resource to help facilitate this plan is HealthyChildren.org, created and maintained by the American Academy of Pediatricians. Specifically, their Family Media Plan resources will help you and your children develop a sound plan together. This page will help families prepare for this mutual conversation. Read and familiarize yourself with the resources on this Parent Media Academy and the links we’ve provided from the various pages, so you can answer questions your child may have. Then, when you’re ready, have a mutual discussion with your children to develop the plan together, explaining the important reasons why each factor matters, and giving your child the safe, nurturing opportunity to question and learn. By participating in the creation of the plan and understanding the reasons why things matter, you will have together laid a firm foundation for future media use.
Media Time Calculator
This simple-but-powerful tool can help your family plan a healthy daily plan for how much media time is appropriate for each child’s age. Use this tool along side the Family Media Plan, and be sure to take into account the research described on the Screen Time page of this Parent Media Academy!
Family Media Plan
On the Family Media Plan resources page of HealthyChildren.org, click the left hand link, “Create Your Family Media Plan.”
Enter information about each child, so that the website can provide information and guidance specific to the developmental needs of each.
The first section of the plan deals with Screen Free Zones. Different families have different habits, based on everything from tradition to culture to the logistics of any given living situation! However, there can be some “non-negotiables.” For example, the research described on the Screen Time page of this Parent Media Academy outlines the importance of not having illuminated digital device screens in sleeping space. Consequently, for “Bedroom,” you should insist on checking the box, and explain how very important it is to your children’s brains – at any age – to have a dark space and uninterrupted sleep. Where you see “Other,” invite your child to think of times when screens can be problematic, not just for them, but for you as well!
The next section of the plan is Screen Free Times. Again, insist upon checking the first box, “One hour before bed.” This is rooted deeply in the scientific research. It’s appropriate to kindly explain that hundreds and hundreds of very smart people who work really hard to understand the child brain have all said the same thing: it’s really important not to use devices an hour before bed time. (Be prepared: If you’re used to drifting off to sleep with the television on, you might have to agree to change your behavior, too! Modeling is important!) Read through the next items, and as you did before, check the boxes together that you agree are important, and add any – including inviting your child to add their own! – that will help your family.
The next section of the plan is Device Curfews, which deals with deciding where devices will go to charge. In some situations, it might be appropriate to secure all of the devices together in a safe, central place. In other situations, a parent might explain why having one adult phone turned on (but dark) in the night is important for safety and emergencies, such as families that do not have land line telephones. Take the time to collaboratively develop a good plan for how all the devices in the household will “go to sleep” at night, so that the humans can get their quality sleep.
Choose & Diversify Your Media is particularly important in the next section. Being familiar with and involved in the media your children experience is important, so that you can identify problematic or question-inducing materials. Sometimes, loving guidance and thoughtful reflection can provide a world of benefit when children experience unexpected or controversial content. Other times, restricting access to harmful or inappropriate media may be the healthy choice. There is a marked difference between a simple and hard “do as I say,” and taking the time to meaningfully explain a problematic situation to a child. The Family Media Plan can help to provide the framework to have those sometimes-challenging conversations. A good non-negotiable in this section is the item “NOT spend lots of time watching fast-paced shows or apps with lots of bells & whistles,” which may appear depending on the age of the child. Rapidly-changing and flashing media is associated with negative impacts on child brain development at some ages, so it’s always good to reduce that impact.
In the next section, Balancing Online & Off-line Time, again rely upon the research laid out on the Screen Time page, and insist upon the inclusion of at least one activity that could comprise 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity. “Playing outside” is a terrific option for some children. However, if playing outside isn’t appropriate for your child (perhaps due to health concerns) or not always preferable, collaboratively brainstorm about other ways to be highly active for at least an hour a day.
The next section is Manners Matter, which primarily addresses personal smart phone use. Consequently, this section may be blank for some young users. For older children, this can help to develop healthy habits that promote what is called “prosocial behavior,” or behavior that is good for one’s self and for others.
Similarly, the next sections, Digital Citizenship and Safety First helps foster a discussion about being safe online and with others. Frame this conversation from a “how to get help when you need it” perspective, as well as understanding the difference between helping to keep things private from others (e.g., not over-sharing online and inviting harm) and keeping things secret from parents (e.g., doing things one knows one shouldn’t). There are some important conversations, especially for adolescent children with smart phones, pertaining to safety, privacy, and bullying. It is important to develop a sense of safety between you and your children, so that they feel comfortable expressing when things are not okay and to seek your counsel when they are confused. By inviting your children to help establish the ways in which they can communicate with you, and “priming the pump” for uncomfortable conversations should they ever arise, you will keep that door open and help foster trust. The flip side of that is that to earn that trust, you should model those behaviors, and check in regularly with your children about their media use in an open, non-threatening manner.
If you had the quality conversations earlier in the plan, the section called Sleep & Exercise will be easy! By now, your children will have learned about the importance of these two factors in their healthy growth.
Once you’ve finished your Family Media Plan, scroll back up to the top, and in the upper right-hand corner, click “Print,” so you can generate a copy of the plan and post it where everyone can see it and work with it each and every day!