Aug 20, 2019

No one ever told me parenting was going to be easy, and I have found that parenting when your kids connect to screens for entertainment, communication, and even school has unique challenges. Technology is not all bad. It enables our children to see the world, learn about topics that interest them, and easily connect with family and friends.

But technology is also the gateway to expose our children to things that we want to protect them from– cyberbullying, hate speech, racism, lewd images, and strangers. As a parent of four boys, I grew increasingly aware of the risks, challenges, and opportunities that come with technology as they started to utilize tablets. But my wife and I quickly discovered we were ill-equipped to keep our kids safe online, limit screen time, and keep up with how quickly technology changed.

Need help managing screen time in your house? Read A Parent’s Guide to Demystifying Screen Time.

Why Having a Screen Time App is Important

Screens are an important aspect of how children interact with the world around them. Almost every facet of their lives has a screen, and for many screens have become the preferred method of communication. According to the Pew Research Center survey on Teens, Technology, and Friendships, 72% of all teens spend time with friends via social media and 57% of teens make friends online.

However, smartphone and tablet use can also have physical effects on health including inhibiting sleep, information recall, and exposing them to inappropriate or dangerous content. Screen time parenting requires us to teach our children how to handle and navigate in the digital world.

Here are six reasons why a screen time app can help your family.

  1. It Limits Distractions
    Your child’s brain is still developing so it is only natural that your child may have issues with impulse control and difficulty in self-regulating their screen time. Additionally, viewing screens (single or multiple) while multitasking makes it harder for children to focus on one thing, whether it’s a conversation with friends, dinner with the family or homework. To help your kids from being distracted by smartphones or other mobile devices, screen time apps allow you to limit phone, tablet and app use during specific times.
  2. Helps You Start Conversations with Your Child
    It is helpful to know where your child spends their time online and in-app so you can have a conversation with your child about the interests they pursue in their digital life. Discuss which websites and apps your child is using, why they like it and what they are getting out of it. Understanding their online searches, the apps on their devices, and the platforms they use can start a conversation about potential pitfalls or mishaps they could encounter. Most children and teens may experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when not engaging with their devices but engaging them in conversation may help reduce their anxiety and remind them of their life away from technology.
  3. Encourages Unplugged Time
    Unplugging as a family can help you focus on face-to-face conversation and keep you informed with what’s going on in your children’s lives. Imposing screen time limits can be challenging no matter the age, but for children who are still developing, it can be a constant struggle. Tech- free time is essential and necessary, especially during key times like dinner and unwinding before bedtime.
  4. Supports Your Screen Time Reward System
    Screen time apps that allow parents to remotely allot additional screen time as a reward is important for any family since it’s a great incentive to promote good behavior. It also allows parents to create a system where screen time can be earned by requiring a tech-free activity or 30 minutes of reading in exchange for 30 minutes of screen time.
  5. Helps Reduce Depression
    Parents' news feeds are filled with stories about how most children and teens are spending more time on screens than prior years. A recent study by San Diego State University has identified a potential link between increased screen time and depression in teens, especially young teen girls. The same researchers found that unplugging and spending time engaging in face-to-face social interaction, exercise, sports and homework contributed to fewer symptoms of depression. This study’s findings support the idea that parents need a helping hand in monitoring their children’s time spent in front of screens.
  6. Provides Parent-Focused Community
    Parents learn a lot from other parents and parenting experts. When Net Nanny® recently surveyed parents, we discovered that the top two sources they turn to for parenting advice are friends and family members. Look for a screen time app that has an active parenting community that can be tapped into when you need information quickly and easily. Allow other parents to be your guardrails as you navigate your child’s digital world, learn from their experience using apps that can become too addictive or the gateway for dangerous content.

Why Limiting Screen Time for Kids is Healthy

Screens are a constant part of our children’s daily life, and it’s important to set guidelines to keep screen time at healthy levels. If you have concerns about the addictive nature of technology and screens in your child’s life, you're not alone. In a recent Net Nanny® parenting survey, parents’ three biggest worries when it comes to children using apps & screen time were:

  • Mature content
  • Meeting strangers
  • Addictive play

Apps, social platforms, and streaming services are all designed to ensure your child spends the maximum engagement time and rewards them for their loyalty. When users achieve small goals, like winning a level, their brain gives them a burst of dopamine. These bursts of dopamine form a compulsion loop that compels users to continue playing.

In addition, a recent study by Penn State University shows that technology use, in particularly before bedtime, can contribute to less sleep, interrupted sleep, and higher body mass indexes (BMIs). The effects of screen time can be even more dramatic on babies and toddlers with research indicating that excessive screen time may be linked to speech delays.

Parents need to take the time to have thoughtful discussions with their child on the risks and potential harm of addictive technology. Your child’s environment has a direct influence on their development and if technology is engaged with excessively, it can impact them both cognitively and socially. One of the best ways to combat the addictive nature of these platforms is by using a screen time parental control app that allows you to set healthy boundaries.

Is a Screen Time Parental Control App Right for My Family?

Educators, researchers, and parents have all come to accept that there are a lot of positives also associated with technology. Technology allows children to interact with the world around them, instantly access knowledge and even communicate with friends and family. Many schools also encourage engagement with technology as a resource and aide in classroom learning and development.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated previous guidelines to incorporate more active and appropriate screen time consumption:

  • Children 18 months to 24 months – parents should choose high-quality programming and watch with their children.
  • Children two to five years old—parents should limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programming.
  • Children six and over – parents need to establish consistent limits on the time spent using media and the type of media.

How Can I Limit Screen Time for My Kids?

Limiting screen time is all about finding a healthy balance. If you’re concerned that your child is spending too much time engage with technology, the good news is that there are a variety of ways to help you limit their screen time. Many families have found that the steps below have helped them manage their family’s screen time use.

  • Create a Family Media Contract
    A Family Media Contract is a great free tool to help teach your kids to become good digital citizens, learn accountability, help you set clear rules and understand what’s an acceptable screen time amount for your family.
  • Designate Screen-Free Zones
    Identify specific rooms in the house that technology and screens are not permitted, such as the dining room, bathrooms, and bedrooms. This not only reduces the temptation of risky behavior but also allows your entire family to take a mini technology detox.
  • Model Good Digital Behavior
    You will always be your child’s first and best teacher so why not unplug as a family by designating media free family time. Start by making the same rules for all ages in your house for specific activities, like at dinner time, by keeping all phones in another room with the sound off so no one is tempted by the buzzing of alerts. Increased awareness of everyone’s screen time, including your own, will be beneficial for your family dynamics.
  • Be Consistent
    The only way to know how much time your child spends on their device is to consistently monitor their screen time use. Set age-appropriate time and content limits on the media your child is engaging with and viewing.
  • Partner with Your Child
    Join forces with your child to tackle new technology and apps together by researching, selecting, and discovering apps you want to explore as a family. This will not only increase your own knowledge base but will give you and your child a shared experience to bond over together. Check out the App Advisor for help finding which apps are safe for your kids.

Today’s parents need more than just a screen time app – they also need a support system, whether in person with friends and family or through a virtual community, to tell them the good, bad, and ugly on what parents need to know. Technology is not going away anytime soon, and it is unrealistic to expect children not to engage with technology but by using a screen time parental control app, like Net Nanny®, your family can learn to strike a healthier balance between online and unplugged activities.

David Savage

David Savage is a co-founder of Content Watch Holdings, the makers of the all-new Net Nanny®,  and the father of four boys, ages 6 to 12.