Back to School (or Back to Screens?)

Hopefully you and your kids all enjoyed a great summer with more family time, outdoor time, hangs with friends, and relaxation. Whether or not your kids and teens got a break from screens and social media this summer, now is the time to evaluate and set guidelines for healthy screen use for the upcoming school year.

There is growing, undeniable evidence that smartphone and social media use are linked with negative mental health. A recent study concluded that kids who get smartphones earlier become adults with worse mental health.

Last May, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory about the effects social media use has on youth mental health. That’s the Surgeon General warning parents to reign in social media use and get involved in protecting our kids. We need to take this seriously.

As parents, it’s our job to be educated about this important topic and then make some concrete changes to the way your kids use screens and social media. The time you spend now addressing this issue will have a long lasting, positive impact on your kids. It’s worth the effort, I promise.

Here are some tools and resources for you to use right away:

1. Use Screen Time controls on iPhones and Androids
If there’s only one thing you choose to do, make it this! The settings on smartphones make it really easy to set times when their phone is locked, and put limits on specific apps. For example, the phone is locked at 9pm; there is a 30 minute limit on TikTok. (You can quickly imagine how helpful that is.)

General guideline:
Teens should spend no more than 2 hours per day on screens (not including school work), so limit all apps to total no more than 2 hours!
Let your teen decide how many minutes for which apps. That’s a great way to give them a say in it.

2. Sign a Family Contract
If you haven’t done it already, print out a template for a phone contract. The smartphone is not a personal diary, and you should look through it with your teen periodically. Letting your teen know that you will be checking to make sure your guidelines are being followed will keep them on their toes.

3. Dig in Deeper
Learn more about the stats and research and share the most important highlights with your kids. Explaining to them why you are implementing guidelines will help them to feel respected as part of the conversation.

4. Replace Screen Time with Fun, Social Activities
Whether it’s walking the dog, playing a board game, walking with friends to the pizza place, or emptying the dishwasher, getting kids outside and with friends having fun is essential to mental health and thriving. Do a digital detox challenge together, and you’ll see the magic that happens when you all decrease screen time together.

5. Finally…
If your kids already have smartphones: Make a plan to decrease use. Stick to it!

If your kids don’t have smartphones yet: Wait until 6-8 grade for basic smartphone use, and do not allow social media until at least 13 years old.

If you want your kids to be happier: Create opportunities for unstructured play (hang outs) with friends so kids can just be kids.

Let me know how it goes! I always love hearing stories from our community.

Here’s to Your Well Being!

Lauren Muriello, LPC
Founder, Licensed Therapist, Educational Speaker, Mom

(Find out when Lauren will be speaking to parents and students at our local schools about the impact of tech and social media on mental health.)