Media and Technology Guidelines for Children

Apr 13, 2023 | Adult Toolbox, Newsletters

by Courtney Oliver, LMHC
BYS Executive Director

As a therapist working with families, the number one question I get is about how to navigate media and technology. From an early age, our children have phones, tablets, apps, social media, and texting available to them, which is far different from our childhoods. Knowing what to do and when to implement boundaries or guidelines can be difficult. Here are some tips based on age. 

Ages 0-4

  • Lead by example: How we use media in our home will predict how our children will use it in the future. It is essential to practice what we are expecting from them. Starting this early will naturally shape their environment or expectations of use. 
  • Limit exposure: The American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) recommends avoiding media for children under 18 months. AAP also states it is recommended to seek out high-quality programming and only consume a maximum of one hour daily with parents watching beside them. 
  • Keep media at home: Leaving tablets at home allows children to explore their surroundings and learn how to be bored. This can spark curiosity and creativity. 

Ages 5-11

  • Know what is age appropriate: Teaching your children the media ratings and your guidelines regarding what is appropriate will not only have them regulate themselves but will also limit their exposure to media that is not age appropriate. In addition to reading the ratings, also look to see if it engages your child’s imagination and has values you believe in. When there is something your child would like to watch that is not appropriate, do not simply say it is ”bad”  but explain your reason and be specific.
  • Watch together: This is the age when many lessons come into play in the content your child is watching. When you engage in the programming, you can discuss openly if questions come up and you will recognize sayings or behaviors your child might be doing that are similar to what they are watching. Sometimes the lessons scripted in the program can provide great discussions on how your child might have handled the situation or what they learned from the character. 
  • Limit screen time: This is a time when children have an increased interest in technology. It is important to continue to encourage other activities and make them equally important. Continue to limit screen time to a maximum of one hour a day. Set up “media-free” spaces in the home (ex. bedroom and dining room).
  • Do not use technology as a reward or consequence: By using technology as a reward or consequence, you are making it desirable which can make a child overvalue it. 
  • Be prepared for children to see inappropriate things: Children are curious and may stumble onto websites or videos they are not developmentally ready for. It is important not to overreact or avoid the conversation. Having healthy conversations now will lead to a stronger relationship with your child. This will be helpful in the future.

Ages 12 and Older

  • Tech Behavior: As a parent, you want to continue to model good tech behavior. Continue to consider having rules in place during family time. While it is normal for rules to slide sometimes, consistency is key. 
  • Encourage phone calls over texting: It can be easy to text, but encouraging phone calls can maintain your relationship and eliminate miscommunication with your child. Educate your child that texting can create misinterpretation because you cannot hear the tone of their voice or see expressions. 
  • Promote Privacy: Children are usually able to access their own social media accounts at thirteen. It is essential that you decide as a family when your child can get their own account. Before opening accounts, I encourage you to discuss with your child what privacy is and the difference between private and public accounts. This is a great opportunity to discuss who it is appropriate to follow,  and let them know that you will follow them, what to do if a stranger contacts them, and how their posts will affect them, sometimes well into the future. As a general rule, children should not share anything online that they would not be comfortable with the entire world reading, including their grandparents. 
  • Friend vs. Spy: If we want our children to understand privacy, we need to model it. I encourage you to follow your child on social media, but not to track them or screen their texts or other messages unless you have a good reason. Phones are a great opportunity to learn to trust your child and the guidelines you imposed. If you learn of inappropriate behavior, address the situation with the goal of a healthy discussion. The goal is to coach children into making healthier choices.
  • Taking & Sharing Photos: Selfies are a rite of passage when a child gets a phone. Teenagers use photos to show their importance, define who they are, and who they are hanging out with, and express how they feel. Teens also use photos to build trust with each other and often share personal, perhaps intimate, photos of themselves. These situations typically start as an innocent exchange but can turn into gossip, damaged relationships, and painful memories. The consequences of these situations can affect a youth’s mental health and might lead to such feelings as shame, embarrassment, depression, anger, and anxiety.  As a parent, it is crucial to discuss boundaries, how the recipient might use the shared image and the understanding that it is easy to lose control of shared content. 

Trust your gut: Always remember that this is your family and you can trust your gut on how to handle tech in your home. You are the best predictor of a healthy family.