Stories about: kids and screen media

Regulating screens in a family with children at different developmental stages

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Michael RichQ: My wife and I have twin 6-year-old boys and a 4-year-old boy. Many of the strategies I’ve seen about responsible screen use, digital media, TV, etc. seem herculean for a family like ours. My wife will use commercial-free videos so she can take a break to cook, as well as online videos of volcanoes, jet fighters, etc. to engage the boys. I buy DVDs in German, as we are a multi-lingual household, and I’m trying to teach and maintain German, despite my being away often due to my schedule.  My question is, how can my wife and I make sure that we are only using screens meaningfully when we have multiple children at different developmental stages?

-Managing Multiples, in Philadelphia, PA

A: Dear Managing,

Your question addresses an issue many parents face, namely, how can we manage screen media use so that each of our children’s developmental needs are met, despite being at different developmental stages?

To help you tackle these issues, first look at their 24-hour day and assign time for the essentials such as sleep, meals, family time, school, and physical activity to help you figure out what time is left to potentially engage in screen media. Then, in the times when media are a good option, choose media with a goal in mind, instead of simply as an ‘electronic babysitter’ or what was once called the ‘plug-in drug’.  It sounds as though you and your wife are already doing this by choosing media that will help teach your children a second language (or about something of interest , like volcanoes and jet fighters). Because you are designing their schedules with them, you may be able to plan when media content can be viewed by all ages, as in learning German, and times when content for the older and younger kids can be viewed separately, because the others are involved in different activities.

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How do I stop myself from parenting with television?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH
Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use.

Last week he answered your questions about bullying on Facebook. Here’s this week’s question:

Q: I am the first to admit that my children use TV, video games, and computers for more than five hours a day. I don’t like this about myself, but I also get them outside, and I guess I feel like I am doing my best at balancing all of this. I know it is easier for me to get my chores done around the house if my toddler is entertained by Noggin or Nick, Jr., and I guess I’ve let their marketing convince me that it’s okay to watch for hours on end because it’s “educational.” Sigh. How do I stop this? How can I go backward from what I am conditioned to do? What can replace these easy “babysitters” so that I can save my mental health? Very intrigued by your research.
Looking for Balance, in Dallastown, PA

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