How to Keep Kids Safe From Harmful Screen Time This Summer
The arrival of summer brings a shift in family schedules. School’s out, which leaves weekdays open for new activities. For parents, keeping kids occupied for weeks on end can be challenging and can lead to fewer restrictions on screen time. While that may be an okay option some of the time, extended use — and engagement with the wrong content — can have negative effects.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), children ages 8-12 in the United States spend an average of 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours. This includes time spent on smartphones, tablets, gaming devices, televisions, and computers.
Spending too much time on screens can lead to a variety of problems for kids and teens, including trouble sleeping, lack of physical activity, and less time spent socializing face-to-face with friends and family.
Other dangers are related to how kids spend their time in front of screens. The ever-evolving digital world poses a number of threats to children and adolescents. They can be exposed to everything from violence to harmful targeted advertising to hypersexualized content and pornography.
We know screen time is inevitable and that it is unrealistic for parents and caregivers to constantly monitor what their children are viewing. However, there are ways to better ensure safe use, and there are steps we can all take to protect kids from harmful content. Here, we offer a list of suggestions to keep kids safe on screens this summer.
Set guidelines for social media use.
In a recent report about social media and youth mental health, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said of social media, “We don’t have enough evidence to say it’s safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health.”
To help protect children and adolescents from harmful social media use, we recommend creating a family social media contract. Download our free adaptable contract here to get started. This invites the family to set expectations together for social media and mobile phone use. By building and agreeing on a plan together, everyone in the family will be expected to follow the rules — the kids won’t be the only ones not allowed to bring their phones to the dinner table. This will help parents and caregivers set a healthy example for kids to follow.
Building this contract together can also help to open up a series of important conversations related to the harms of social media and mobile phone use, including digital footprint, privacy, sexting, cyberbullying, pornography, and more. Use this opportunity to help them understand the things that could lead to trouble. Make it a habit to continue these conversations and respectfully ask your kids how they are spending their time online.
Talk to your kids about porn.
In a recent survey, nearly 60 percent of teens said they first stumbled upon pornography by accident. How might someone accidentally come across such explicit content? Much more easily than one may think. Common ways include social media, online ads, clicking a link they didn’t realize would lead to porn or being shown by a friend.
This is why it’s essential to prepare kids in advance for what they might encounter and to be there when they have questions. Our free online programs for parents offer resources, including conversation scripts, to guide you through these difficult and potentially awkward conversations.
As parents and caregivers, it’s important to establish a trusting relationship and offer a safe space for kids to come to you if they have questions and need to talk. Be the person your kid can speak to about anything — this includes inappropriate or explicit content they may encounter online.
If you learn your child has viewed pornography, we encourage you to direct your anger at the porn industry and address the situation calmly and responsibly with your child. We’ve developed a model for helping parents respond in an appropriate and thoughtful way if they discover their young person has viewed pornography.
If your kids are younger than teenagers, don’t think the conversation can wait until they’re older. The average age of first exposure to porn is 12 years old.
Utilize resources to determine what’s safe for your kids to engage with.
Not all screen time is harmful. In fact, the right shows, games, and sites can be educational and promote creativity. Below are two online tools that can help you manage what your kids engage with.
Common Sense Media reviews movies, books, television shows, apps, games, and more with kids in mind. They recommend age-appropriate media that will entertain kids and ease parents’ worries. Their ratings are based on research and child development guidelines. Check out their site for age-based reviews and recommendations.
The Canopy app empowers parents and caregivers to create a customized Internet experience for their families. Its customizable settings ensure that children have a safe internet experience and that they are protected from exposure to pornography and other online dangers. The app helps manage screen time, blocks explicit content, and lets you choose which apps are allowed. Canopy also protects children from accessing AI-generated pornography and prevents them from contributing to its creation.
Dedicate time to unplug.
Dedicating time to unplug will benefit everyone in your family, especially kids who need time to socialize face-to-face and boost their imagination. Take a look at the links below for hundreds of ideas on ways to have fun while unplugged. From baking a cake to starting a garden to joining a summer reading program, there are countless creative ways to have fun this summer without a screen.
- Non-Tech Summer Activities For Kids of All Ages
- 100 Unplugged Activity Ideas for Young Kids and Tweens
- 101 Fun Activities for Kids that Don’t Involve Screen Time
Where are your kids getting their sex education? Their smartphones? In this digital age, it’s critical for young people to have trusted adults to help them build resilience and resistance to hypersexualized media and porn. Check out Culture Reframed’s free online Programs for Parents of Tweens and Program for Parents of Teens.