Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!
Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!

May 21, 2024

May 15, 2024

Encouraging Healthy Screen Time Habits: Rethinking Our Approach in the Digital Age

E:
225
with
Dr. Michael Rich
Founder of Digital Wellness Lab

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

  • Understanding What a Healthy Screen Time Relationship Means
  • Screen Time Limits (and What We Can Do Instead)
  • Breaking Away from an Unhealthy Fear Mindset Around Screen Time
  • A Simple Framework for Forming Healthy Screen Time Habits
  • Screen Time Rules vs. Expectations
  • When and How to Start Conversations about Digital Literacy
  • Setting Our Children Up for Screen Time Success

The screen time discussion is often very polarizing. Should parents limit screen time for kids? What do healthy limits look like? Are our children going to be addicted? Is all screen time bad? How can we expose them to technology in a healthy way? 

These are tough questions to navigate. From television to video games to online learning to social media, there are far more uses for screens than we could have ever imagined when we were kids. 

We often feel a lot of fear, guilt, shame, and confusion around screen time for our children. 

But Dr. Michael Rich, known as “the Mediatrician” believes that when we let go of guilt and take a proactive approach rather than a fear-based one, we can help our kids establish a healthy relationship with technology. 

For the last 30 years, he’s been collecting and conducting research on how children and their physical, mental, and social health are affected by screens. His book, The Mediatrician's Guide: A Joyful Approach to Raising Healthy, Smart, Kind Kids in a Screen-Saturated World, dives into these topics.

Today, he joins me to unpack that research and discuss how we can promote healthy balance, reduce guilt, model healthy screen time limits for our children, and set kids up for digital wellness. 

Understanding What a Healthy Screen Time Relationship Means

In the digital age, technology is everywhere. It’s a part of our children’s school, their reading, and their learning. And it’s often part of their entertainment and social outlet as well, especially as they get older. 

It’s hard to know where to draw limits or what is harmful or helpful. Dr. Michael pointed out that our parenting instincts and skills are still good—we just have to translate them into a digital environment. 

He said that on a broad social scale we have made some mistakes in the way we view children and screen time—and that these often trace back to old recommendations. The “no screens before age two” recommendation was created by the American Academy of Pediatrics 25 years ago in the era of television—at a time when all screen time was passive. 

Technology has changed since then, research has come out, and our lifestyles have changed. We know that there is such a thing as positive and healthy screen time—and yet we don’t have a practical guideline or updated recommendations. 

It feels like there’s an unrealistic polarization where we can be “for kids” or “for tech,” but not both.

Dr. Michael said that this has created a polarization where it feels like we can either be “for kids” or “for technology,” but not for both—an idea that is often unrealistic and impractical.

He believes that rather than imposing strict limits or making screen time decisions based on fear and guilt, we can equip ourselves with knowledge, skills, and strategies for being the best parents we can be in a digital environment in a realistic way. 

Should Parents Limit Screen Time? 

Dr. Michael believes that even the idea of limiting screen time is becoming obsolete, simply because measuring screen time is complicated. We are often moving fluidly in and out of technology use throughout the day, and so are our kids—making a video call, doing homework, or looking something up. 

When we try to measure that time to create screen time limits, we often end up feeling guilty or ashamed. Dr. Michael said that the first thing he tells parents is to let go of the guilt

Restricting screens makes them a “forbidden fruit,” rather than teaching healthy usage.

He also feels that restricting screens makes them a “forbidden fruit,” often making our children crave them more rather than teaching healthy usage. 

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t set some parameters around healthy screen time—but  instead of focusing on the screen time limits themselves, Dr. Michael advocates for scheduling and sticking to non-screen time, such as going outside to play, taking a walk, or engaging in quality family time that doesn’t involve screens. 

Embracing and prioritizing valuable non-screen time helps reduce technology use without strict restrictions. Often, screens themselves are not the problem as much as a lack of quality time, exercise, or outdoor time. 

When we create rich non-screen experiences, we can strike a healthy balance and rest more easily knowing that our children are getting outside, staying physically active, and connecting with people outside of a screen. 

Breaking Away from an Unhealthy Fear Mindset Around Screen Time

Dr. Michael also wants parents to let go of fear around screens—no good decision is made out of fear. He believes we should embrace technology for what it is—not as toys, treats, or rewards, but as a very powerful set of tools that need to be used responsibly. 

This often means evaluating our uses for technology and what tools our children need. Dr. Michael pointed out that content and context both matter. Something might be positive or benign in some circumstances but harmful in others. For example, texting with your friends is great—but not in the middle of the night. 

We can think of screens as a tool rather than viewing them as “good or bad” or “right or wrong.”

Rather than viewing screens as “good or bad” or “right or wrong,” thinking of them as a tool allows us to make proactive decisions.

Dr. Michael said that it’s no different than a car—we can either be afraid to let our children drive, or we can sit with them and teach them how to do so safely, preparing them for what to expect and helping them develop lifelong skills, while putting safety guardrails in place. 

We need to take that same approach, sitting with our children as we introduce new devices, platform, and applications, and learn with them instead of assuming they will figure it out on their own. 

Dr. Michael pointed out that while our children will likely be more tech-savvy than us, they lack the executive functions of impulse control, future thinking, and understanding of long-term effects. Remaining close and engaging with them allows us to help them through these aspects of technology. 

He urges parents to consider playing video games with their children or involving themselves in their technology. This can help our children feel that we are invested in what they care about, and help establish screen time as something that can be done together. 

A Simple Framework for Forming Healthy Screen Time Habits

Our own screen time use plays a big role in what our children learn about screens. Dr. Michael said that kids listen to what we do more than they listen to what we say. When we impose limits on their screen time but we pull out our phones to avoid boredom, it can feel hypocritical to our children. 

Dr. Michael’s framework for digital wellness involves “5 Ms”:

  • Model: Engage with screens in thoughtful, purposeful, and mindful ways to show the behavior you want to see from them.
  • Mentor: Learn new technology together, fostering connection and connectedness. 
  • Monitor: We can’t monitor everything our children do online all the time. But if we have access to their usernames and passwords, they are going to behave differently online. 
  • Mastery: When we take control of technology rather than viewing it as unsafe, we can use it as an effective tool without fear. 
  • Make memories: Remember that we won’t have memories of what we do online the way we remember baking together, playing catch in the backyard, or taking a walk in the woods. 

When we use this framework, we can start to establish healthy screen time habits for both ourselves and our kids. 

Screen Time Rules vs. Expectations

Dr. Michael’s approach isn’t about a free-for-all or having no guidelines in place when it comes to technology. But it does involve changing our own mindset and the way we approach conversations and decisions regarding technology. 

One of the nuances he pointed out is that there is a difference between rules and expectations. We might set certain expectations, like technology use only occurs in certain rooms or at certain times of the day. But we can discuss these expectations with our children, including the why behind them, and even welcome their input or collaboration. 

This is different than creating strict, rigid rules. Dr. Michael said that rules are made to be tested and pushed against—but family expectations are things we all want to uphold and strive for. 

Maybe everyone in the family puts their devices aside during dinner or leaves their phones in the living room overnight. Or maybe technology after a specific time is only for school or work. 

When you collaborate and create family expectations, children are more likely to feel invested, respected, and empowered, rather than restricted. 

When and How to Start Conversations about Digital Literacy

Technology continues to change, and we don’t know where the future will take us. But Dr. Michael said that with any new technology, there is often a moral panic. When Gutenberg made the printing press, many people thought it might be a disaster for everyone to learn to read. But we can choose to embrace technology tools, just as we did with reading, with our eyes open. 

Tools can be used to our benefit, or they can be misused. But when we approach technology as a tool and model digital literacy and wellness, we can set our children up for success. 

We can begin teaching media literacy from the very beginning

Dr. Michael said that we can begin teaching media literacy from the very beginning. If our toddler is watching Sesame Street or Bluey we can talk through scenarios, discuss the character’s emotions, and motivations, and ask questions. 

It’s also important to remember brain development in both how we approach screen time and the conversations we have. For example, Dr. Michael pointed out that children under the age of 7-8 aren’t capable of determining persuasive intent—meaning they won’t understand that commercials or sponsored videos are trying to sell them something. 

Media literacy looks different at various ages and stages of development. But we can lay the foundation early on. 

Setting Our Children Up for Screen Time Success

Forming a healthy relationship and balance with screen time isn’t always a clearcut journey. It takes planning, adjustment, troubleshooting, collaboration, and adaptation to our individual family needs and our children. 

Dr. Michael encourages parents to focus less on strict regulations or limits and more on a holistic approach. He believes parents should be intentional about the way we think and talk about screen time, both with our kids and without. 

For example, he advocates for a slight shift from talking about whether something is “developmentally appropriate” to thinking about it in terms of “developmentally optimal.” What is developmentally appropriate can be different based on culture, values, or individual situations such as neurodivergence. 

But if we instead think about what is optimal for our child at their age and stage, we can break away from fearmongering and have more nuanced conversations. 

Ultimately, we want to foster a healthy view of screen time instead of one based on guilt or fear. 

Ultimately, we want to foster a healthy view of screen time instead of one based on guilt, fear, or restriction, both for our children and ourselves. 

We want to be involved with our children with open conversations so that they feel they can come to us if they experience discomfort or confusion online. And we want to equip them with the skills and judgment they need to make the best use of technology, now and in the future. 

Struggling with guilt, fear, or boundary-setting? Working with a mom therapist can help! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today!

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

Screen Time, Guilt, Technology

Stage:

Motherhood

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Dr. Michael Rich
Founder of Digital Wellness Lab

Dr. Michael Rich, known as the Mediatrician, has spent over 30 years researching the effects of screens and media on children and teens and caring for young people struggling with media-related physical and mental health issues. As the founder of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital and a father of four, he understands the confusion and concerns parents have about raising their kids surrounded by technology, but he knows it is possible to raise happy, smart, and kind kids who have healthy relationships with others and with media.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
RELATED ARTICLES
May 21, 2024
May 15, 2024
Encouraging Healthy Screen Time Habits: Rethinking Our Approach in the Digital Age
E:
225
with
Dr. Michael Rich
Founder of Digital Wellness Lab
April 29, 2024
April 24, 2024
Understanding and Implementing Responsive Parenting: How to Break the Yelling/Shame Cycle
E:
222
with
Dr. Cindy Hovington
Founder of Curious Neuron
February 20, 2024
September 20, 2023
Managing Mom Anxiety: Why Millennial Moms Are So Anxious and How to Overcome Our Fears
E:
191
with
Dr. Lauren Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 6, 2023
How to Raise Confident Kids: Breaking Cycles of Negative Self-Esteem
E:
189
with
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
Founder of The North Star Developmental Clinic
February 20, 2024
August 2, 2023
Establishing Family Values: How to Identify What Matters and Avoid Comparison
E:
184
with
Mell & Joe Hashey
Founders of Strong Family Co.
February 20, 2024
June 21, 2023
Myths About Toddler Behavior: How to Reclaim the "Terrible Twos"
E:
178
with
Dr. Cathryn Tobin
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
April 19, 2023
Overcoming Grief as Our Children Age: The Value of Acceptance and How to Be More Present
E:
169
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Marriage & Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
January 11, 2023
Understanding Baby Temperament: How to Tune Into Your Child’s Natural Personality
E:
155
with
Dr. Cara Goodwin
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 28, 2022
Establishing Age-Appropriate Boundaries With Kids: How to Set Limits That Kids Want to Follow
E:
140
with
Tia Slightham
@parentingcoach on TikTok and Founder of Parenting Solutions
February 20, 2024
September 21, 2022
Encouraging Independent Play: Why Unstructured Play Matters and How to Foster It
E:
139
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
February 20, 2024
September 7, 2022
How To Help a Child Regulate Their Emotions: Why Remembering the Good Matters
E:
137
with
Dr. Becky Kennedy
Founder of Good Inside
February 20, 2024
August 24, 2022
How to Support a Child Going Through Transitions: Strategies for Separation Anxiety, Back-to-School, and Beyond
E:
135
with
Jess VanderWier
Founder of Our Mama Village
February 20, 2024
August 17, 2022
How to Help a Child With School Anxiety: Easing Worries and Promoting Resilience
E:
134
with
Dr. Becky Kennedy
Founder of Good Inside
February 20, 2024
August 10, 2022
Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten? Kindergarten Readiness Is Different Than You Think
E:
133
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
February 20, 2024
May 25, 2022
Navigating Tantrums and Meltdowns: Understanding Sensory Reactions and Supporting Neurodivergent Children
E:
122
with
Laura Petix
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
April 6, 2022
How to Get Kids to Stop Whining: Strategies for Communicating With Young Children
E:
115
with
Joanna Faber and Julie King
Authors
February 20, 2024
March 23, 2022
How to Get Your Kids to Listen: Tips for Managing Defiance in Young Children
E:
113
with
Joanna Faber and Julie King
Authors
February 20, 2024
February 23, 2022
Navigating After School Restraint Collapse: What Causes the Meltdowns and How You Can Help
E:
109
with
Dr. Kristyn Sommer, Ph.D.
Child Development Researcher
February 20, 2024
October 13, 2021
Momming With ADHD
E:
90
with
Dr. Melissa Shepard
Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
August 25, 2021
Helping Our Kids Cope With Change
E:
83
with
Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart
Pediatric Psychologist
February 20, 2024
August 4, 2021
Kindergarten Readiness
E:
80
with
Cori Stern
Learning Specialist and Behaviour Analyst
February 20, 2024
July 14, 2021
Modeling Consent in Parenthood
E:
77
with
Jess VanderWier
Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
May 12, 2021
Understanding Secure Attachment
E:
68
with
Dr. Tanya Cotler
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
March 24, 2021
Managing Screen Time Without Guilt
E:
61
with
Dr. Elizabeth Adams
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
April 1, 2021
Bedwetting and Constipation
E:
62
with
Dr. Steve Hodges
Pediatric Urologist
February 20, 2024
December 9, 2020
The Secret to a Secure Bond
E:
48
with
Dr. Tina Payne Bryson
New York Times Best Selling Author
February 20, 2024
November 25, 2020
Conscious Boundary Setting
E:
47
with
Ashleigh Warner
Family Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 30, 2020
Managing Tantrums According to Science
E:
43
with
Cindy Hovington, Ph.D.
Founder of Curious Neuron
February 20, 2024
April 1, 2020
Parenting Through Covid
E:
27
with
Dr. Elizabeth Adams
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
March 11, 2020
Fostering Early Language Development
E:
25
with
Carly Tulloch
Speech and Language Pathologist
February 20, 2024
March 4, 2020
024: What is the purpose of discipline?
E:
24
with
Jessica VanderWier
Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
February 19, 2020
The Power of Sensory Play
E:
22
with
Dr. Allie Ticktin
Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
December 4, 2019
Fostering Independent Play
E:
16
with
Bryana Kappa
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 23, 2019
The Secret to Mindful Mothering
E:
10
with
Bryana Kappa
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 9, 2019
Tuning Out the Noise and Tuning into Your Child
E:
8
with
Dr. Elizabeth Adams
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
October 2, 2019
Taking the Stress, Guilt, and Chaos Out of Mealtimes
E:
7
with
Kacie Barnes
Toddler Dietitian