It’s that time of year: back to school. Whether you are celebrating or mourning the end of summer, this time marks a fresh start for families. As parents consider how to best help their child achieve success this school year, audiologists and speech-language pathologists know how much tech use can affect a child’s school achievement. This makes it an ideal time to guide parents toward better balance after the all-too-common summer screen-time binge.
Editor’s note: As always, children who use low- and high-tech augmentative and alternative communication devices (AAC) should continue to use them at all times—and in an interactive way.
As with almost everything in child rearing, the rules are not necessarily one-size-fits all: what works for one child (or family) may not work for another. Finding the ideal balance can take trial and error. As parents continue to grapple with setting appropriate parameters for kids, it’s not necessarily as simple as “no more than 30 minutes a day.”
Try sharing these tech resolutions with families to help them find a screen time balance to the new school year:
- Make—and stick to—a plan. If you haven’t already developed a family technology plan, the start of school makes an excellent time to do so. Numerous trusted groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and Common Sense Media, offer templates to make this easy. Even if you already use a plan, find time to revisit it and consider—with your kids—whether the rules need to evolve. What is, and isn’t, working? Are kids old enough for additional/different privileges? Screen time plans need to change to stay effective.
- Focus on quality. While quantity—such as daily/weekly time limits—still work for many families, not all screen time is created equal. As most experts now stress, 30 minutes spent creating something—art, stories, programming—isn’t the same as 30 minutes passively viewing YouTube videos. Emphasize the former—and consider allowing more leeway if the time gets well spent.
- Make dinner time sacred. An oldie but goodie, dinner time should be offline time. Make conversation king at the table. In addition to building kids’ communication—speech, language, and social—skills and providing an unmatched, consistent opportunity for family bonding and connection, a host of other benefits are linked to regular family dinners. Technology is almost always a distraction—so no answering texts, emails, or Googleing. Everyone can hold off for those 30 minutes.
- Keep bedtime use off limits. Another classic, but oft-ignored recommendation. Recent research from Common Sense Media found 68% of teens—and 74% of parents—now take their mobile devices to bed with them. Not only can this detract from beneficial bedtime activities such as daily reading, but it can interfere with adequate sleep—which is necessary for physical and mental health, as well as academic success.
- Limit during homework time. This undoubtedly becomes more difficult as kids get older and assignments require online research. To that end, minimize technology as much as possible—and only to assist in homework. During homework time, discourage multi-tasking with social media or texting.
- Get involved. Make tech use a group activity. Watch your kids play Fortnite or view videos from their favorite YouTuber with them. Ask questions. Show—better yet, have—interest. This not only keeps the lines of communication open and provides a chance to talk/bond, but it can moderate parents’ concerns about their child’s online time—i.e., it may not be as bad as you think. Conversely, it can be an early indicator of problematic content.
- Elevate the conversation—Think beyond limits, rules, and restrictions. Again, these have their place, but encourage kids to think critically, for themselves, about how they use technology (risks/rewards) and help them appreciate and value offline time—both activities and relationships—prioritizing people over devices. Parents can’t monitor everything, especially as children get older. Talk about your expectations for being a good digital citizen and your family’s values, so they carry these along when they are at friends’ houses, on the school bus, and out in the world. Give them the tools to make good decisions.
For more information and tips, visit ASHA’s Healthy Communication & Popular Technology Initiative.
Jaumeiko Coleman, PhD, CCC-SLP, FNAP is ASHA’s Director of School Services. firstname.lastname@example.org.