How can I monitor my child's mobile screen time?

When your child receives their first mobile phone, a conversation about limiting screen time is due to take place. Psychologist and owner of Digital Nutrition, Jocelyn Brewer, gives her expert advice on how to tackle this minefield laden issue.

You've handled the advent of iPads and laptops but with an additional device in the home, getting your child to put their phone down - and limit that extra screen time - is another parenting hurdle to overcome.

"Enforcing these rules is a huge topic and you need to have agreed guidelines and limits in place - becuase enforcement comes from consistency in parenting," says Jocelyn. "But there are three general rules that will help you out."

1. Ditch the digital calorie counting

It's important that you look beyond the time spent online - and setting clocks to monitor it - and ask yourself bigger questions about the content and context of your child's use on their mobile phone screens says Jocelyn.

"This is incredibly important to understand the patterns and habits of mobile use and also ensuring it remains a healthy and balanced digital habit," she explains. "Talk to kids about what they want to do online and why they are so keen to do it. Get into their world and understand their interests, what they’re doing and thinking. This bit is important: What are they aiming to get out of their actions online? If it's gaming they probably want to win if its taking selfies it's more likely you to be about getting peer approval."

You need to look at the bigger perspective and context of your child - online and offline, public and private, busy time and downtime, stresses Jocelyn. "Screen time should be just one part of the child’s overall world which needs to be balanced and generative for good health, good sleep and so on. I recommend Dr. Dan Siegal's book Brainstorm as a great way of summarising this and keeping healthy across a range of domains."

2. Make a plan for tech use, don’t ban devices

Worried about endless screen time when you're not in the room to watch?

"I suggest parents try removing the chargers - not the devices," says Jocelyn. "This means your child will get better at metering out battery life and usage Just like they might with the choices of how they spend pocket money – blow it all at once or make it last."  

This then helps kids develop their emotional intelligence and key cognitive traits to mediate tech use, rather than having to rely solely on software to monitor their time online.

You could also try drawing up a contract for downtime activities, suggests Jocelyn. "Create a meaningful plan or contract which includes your child’s ideas on what healthy habits mean to them. This should include offline activities as central to the plan or contract as well as the ‘screentime’."

And last but not least, beware of using screen time as a reward, Jocelyn warns. "It sets up the extrinsic motivation to complete tasks and makes tech use a currency to be yearned or earned. It's so central to our lives it’s like rewarding kids with sugary treats!"

3. Become a media mentor

This is a perfect parenting opportunity to not only bond with your child but to start some really active and healthy conversations at home, says Jocelyn.

"Parents benefit from taking the role of media mentors and encouraging conversations about and around the online activities in which the family engage in," she explains. "What do we do? What do we see? What do we read online? And how do they feel about this - what do they respond to? Co-play, co-viewing and then conversations around that are key to balancing out the online experience with the offline skills."

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