3 Simple Rules for a Healthy Media Diet

By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media parenting editor

You balance their meals, so why not their media? Learn the secrets to a well-balanced media diet.

Many parents struggle with exactly how much screen time is OK for their kids. Is a half-hour show OK but a full-length movie "bad"? The truth is, there is no magic formula. A healthy media diet is very much like a nutritious meal plan: Some days, they eat all their peas and carrots, and one day they may eat nothing but Cheetos at a birthday party. You figure out ways to make sure they get the right balance over the long term.

A healthy media diet balances three things: what kids do, how much time they spend doing it, and whether their content choices are age-appropriate. At some point, you'll help them take the reins and manage their own use. In the meantime, these tips can help:

Use media together.

  • Whenever you can, watch, play, and listen with your kids. Talk about the content.
  • When you can't be there, ask them about the media they've used. Help kids question and consider media messages.
  • Share your own values. Let them know how you feel about solving problems with violence, stereotyping people, selling products using sex or cartoon characters, or advertising to kids in schools or movie theaters.
  • Help kids connect what they learn in the media to events and other activities in which they're involved -- such as sports and art -- to broaden their understanding of the world.

Be a role model.

  • When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it. Avoid posting everything that happens in your life, ask permission before uploading photos of others, and establish some media-free family time.
  • Use media as a tool. Show your kids your mapping program, your news app, or your photo-editing programs. Demonstrate how your devices are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves.
  • Avoid using media as a reward or a punishment -- that gives it too much power.

Keep an eye on the clock.

  • Establish time limits that work for your family's needs.
  • Let kids choose their entertainment options for the day. It could be a show, a game, or a learning app -- but giving them the choice helps them regulate their usage.
  • Limit distractions. Keep phones and devices away when kids need to focus on other things -- homework or chores, for example. That'll make it easier for them to stay on task and make media use easier to track.

Learn more about healthy screen time habits at Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media

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Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices.  Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.