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Do You Have a Media Use Agreement at Home?

Posted by Chris Starr on Sep 29, 2023 9:10:00 AM

Technology is everywhere and has become an essential aspect of our school, home, personal, and business lives. Walk into most pre-K or kindergarten classrooms today, and you are likely to see interactive whiteboards, students utilizing iPads, robotics activities, and other tech-based learning aids and apps. By high school, students are engaging in ever more complex uses of technology to learn advanced coding, engineering, 3D modeling, and all manner of internet and artificial intelligence-based research techniques.

The proliferation of technology in education and the need to support healthy media use has prompted many schools to adopt acceptable use policies and other guidelines for supporting mental, physical, and social-emotional growth in the real world measured against the many hours students spend surfing the digital world. 

The Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Business School have joined forces to create the Digital Wellness Lab, and their “Best Practices for Digital Wellness” calls for families to mirror the work of educators by sitting down with their teens to create shared media use agreements in the home.

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For more on these agreements, as well as the latest science, best practices, and resources, visit their website.

Common sense dictates that time in the real world is as critical as time in the virtual world, and negative health impacts can occur when technology use begins to displace levels of healthy natural activities, such as sleep, time with family and friends, exercise, and a healthy diet.

The Royal Academy for Pediatrics in the United Kingdom weighs in and has some especially helpful questions that parents can ask themselves and their children to guide them in creating shared media use agreements for the whole family:

1: Is screen time in your household controlled?

Controlling screen time is subjective, and the academy advises adult-based control for infants and younger children with gradually increasing autonomy as children grow (subject to monitoring by the parent). They also emphasize the importance of parents modeling real/virtual balance to set an example.

2: Does screen use interfere with what your family wants to do?

Where might technology use interfere with family bonding, mealtimes, or (especially with younger children) face-to-face social interaction that is vital to developing language and social skills.

3: Does screen use interfere with sleep?

Experts advise that screens be avoided at least an hour before bedtime so as not to interfere with a good bedtime routine and so that children’s brains have time to unwind without the stimulation from the light of the screen and any content being viewed. 

4: Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

Snacking during screen time can be hazardous. While immersed in technology, children can lose track of their dietary intake when left unmonitored. If combining snacking and screen time, experts recommend it be part of an overall diet plan — especially with children at risk of obesity.

When creating a media use agreement for the family, it is important that everyone understands the boundaries and the role they play in keeping them. Children should be praised for respecting boundaries and, when appropriate, rewarded for their respect. Conversely, consequences for disrespecting boundaries should be clear. 

The online world offers children great opportunities for learning, growth, and even the cultivation of healthy relationships and interaction. But it should not be at the expense of regular interaction in the physical world, which builds confidence, resilience, social skills, and physical well being. 

If you feel that despite all your efforts, your child may still be struggling with Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU), the Boston Children’s Digital Wellness Lab may offer some insight.

Other helpful resources include:

A Parent's Guide to Building Girls' Confidence E-book Download Button

Topics: technology, parenting, activities with kids, health, mental health, family, safety

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