Technology -- computers, television, cell phones, mp3 players and such -- make information and entertainment readily available. However, too much of a good thing may not be good for personal relationships.
With parents and children vying for time on the computer or children each tuned in to their own music, interaction between family members may be nil. In today's world, screen time can replace personal interaction with family and friends, health-promoting physical activity and other personal growth opportunities such as reading a book.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of entertainment media time for school-aged kids a day. Children younger than 2 should not be in front of the screen at all. Electronic media has no meaning for such young children, and their developing brains need practice in thinking creatively, problem-solving and developing reasoning and motor skills. That all happens through unstructured play and through interaction with others.
Separating appropriate use of technology from abuse can challenge parents. There are things parents can do to help kids scale back their media time.
Place the TV and computer out of a child's room and in a central location where use can be better monitored. Check the content of interactive computer/video games, and don't be afraid to say "no." Set boundaries for the Internet, so children do not view it as the only source of information.
Model appropriate use, while continuing personal and family style activities. If you spend a chunk of your day surfing the Internet or watching TV, you can't expect your kids to be willing to give up their screen time. Involve the family in reading books, game night, cooking together or taking a walk as a family after dinner.
Use of technology can become a habit making it easy to forget that there are other options. Help your kids explore alternative activities such as playing outdoors, taking on a new hobby or learning a new sport.
Balance time with technology and time without. If the TV is often on as background noise, turn it off and only have it on when someone is really watching it. The same is true for the computer. Use it for a specific purpose and then move on to another activity. Turn off technology during family meals and activities. Focus on conversation with family members and sharing news about the day's activities.
Create a screen time schedule. Once you have established boundaries for the use of technology, be sure to honor the agreement and allow use without interruptions from you.
Establishing guidelines -- or rules -- for use and posting them near the TV or computer can be helpful in curbing disagreement. Make technology fit into your lifestyle, without letting it drive your lifestyle.