How to Talk to Your Children About Screen Time & What They’re Watching

Many experts believe that children’s viewing habits can affect them negatively — including riskier behaviors and violent actions. But should TV, movies and video games take the full blame for their effects on children?

Subject matter is even more of an issue with increased access to screens and COVID-19 keeping kids at home. Here are our tips for monitoring and discussing screen time with your child.

Be involved in your child’s viewing habits

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior.” Any media your child watches — whether it’s TV or movies, video games or YouTube — affects their attitude through depictions of violence and dangerous behaviors, including:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drug use
  • Smoking cigarettes and vaping
  • Racial and sexual stereotyping

The heroes of the shows who perform these acts are often framed as aspirational figures. And it’s not just the shows themselves. Commercial breaks bombard children with ads designed to sell them products.

Risky content can blur the lines between right and wrong and lead to bad habits, confused beliefs, nightmares and restless sleep. What can you do to provide comforting and honest context?

Watch and determine if what they’re viewing is appropriate. Most network television, movies and video games have ratings, but the Internet is a bigger question mark. Treat shows as teaching moments even if you’re okay with them. What was good or bad about the viewing experience? What’s the difference between reality and fiction?

TV and movies can be healthy and educational for children when viewed in moderation. But don’t just monitor the content of your child’s viewing — set conservative limits on screen time.

“TV and video games can be addictive,” says Dr. Ronna Schneider. “When our kids spend too much time playing video games, it causes them to be overstimulated. When they sit in class, try to read or do a quiet activity, they have difficulties paying attention and staying engaged.”

Is your child watching content that is inappropriate for them? Are they spending too much time in front of screens in general? Be involved in what your child is watching to help them find a healthy balance.

Signs of screen time addiction & what parents can do to help

According to The Center for Parenting Education, it’s estimated that kids and teens spend about 44.5 hours per week in front of digital screens, and about 23% of kids and teens report they actually feel addicted to video games.

What are some signs that your child is addicted to screen time?

  • Lying about the amount of time they’re using their computer, tablet or phone
  • Becoming disproportionately upset when screen time is interrupted
  • Losing all interest in other activities

What can you do to help ease devices out of their hands?

  • Have a reward chart for when they give up screen time willingly
  • Turn off the autoplay feature when using streaming services
  • Follow up screen time with fun alternatives, such as sports or arts & crafts
  • Be a model for viewing habits — put your own phone away!
  • Make screen time a scheduled part of the day

For more information

At Cincinnati Children’s Liberty, Mason and Springdale Primary Care, we’re here for you and your family every step of the way. Check out our additional website resources and follow us on Facebook.