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Healthy Media Habits for Parents

Originally published at: Common Sense Media

Five tips to help you create a balanced approach to media that keeps everyone in your family healthy.

  1. Choose the good stuff (and not too much!). When your kids ask to see, play, or download something, don't just take their word for it -- check up on it. A lot of the age recommendations on media products are the creators' best guess and aren't necessarily a match for your child's age and developmental stage. Read product reviews from independent sources (like Common Sense Media). Say no if you're not comfortable with it. And when you approve something, help your kids enjoy it along with their other activities.
  2. Don't use screens right before bed, and keep them out of the bedroom overnight. Kids really need their sleep. Screens in the bedroom -- especially in the hour before bedtime -- interfere with the entire process of winding down, preparing for rest, and waking up refreshed and ready to tackle the day. If you're unable to make the bedroom a screen-free zone (which is optimal but not always possible), keep TVs off for at least an hour before bedtime and set tablets or phones to night mode, turn off any notifications, and/or consider using Guided Access or another device setting to keep phones/tablets locked on a music or an alarm clock app.
  3. Turn off the TV if no one is watching it. A lot of parents of young kids keep the TV on for company. But so-called background TV has been shown to get in the way of parents talking and interacting with their kids -- which are key to helping kids learn language and communication. Background TV can also expose kids to age-inappropriate content. Seek out other forms of entertainment that you can listen to with your kid, such as music, kids' podcasts, and audiobooks.
  4. Make time for enjoying media with your kids, especially reading. Reading to your kid is one of the best things you can do -- period. It's great for bonding, but it also sets the stage for learning. While it's nice to have a little library of books at home, you can read whatever's available and it'll be good for them. Product labels, signs, packaging copy -- anything with words is fine. If you're raising your kid in a place where you don't completely know the language, feel free to read books or articles to them in your native tongue. Or just make up stories -- it's the rhythm, sounds, and communication that are important for kids to hear.
  5. Practice what you preach. Remember, your kids are watching you. When your kids are little, create a family media plan to help you balance media and tech (theirs and yours) with all of the other things that are important to you. This isn't just for them; it's for you, too. Schedule in downtime, chores, homework, outdoor fun, reading, meals, etc. And then figure out how much extra is available for TV shows, games, apps and other media activities. Don't worry about counting up daily screen time minutes -- just aim for a balance throughout the week. Try to carve out times and locations that are "screen-free zones." Hold yourself to them. Kids learn more from what we do than what we say, so make sure you're role-modeling the right habits.
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