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Parental Controls: Setting Safe & Healthy Media Limits

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By: Roslyn Gerwin, DO & Suzy Tomopoulos, MD, FAAP

As a parent, you can talk with your child about media use, setting healthy limits and being responsible citizens online. But how can you reinforce healthy digital habits when they're not with you? Parental media controls can be a great option to help keep children's media time happy and safe.

Do you need parental controls?

As a parent, you should always feel comfortable taking steps to ensure your kids' media use is safe and appropriate. In fact, all families should have conversations about healthy media limits.

Parental controls are important teaching points for kids to learn how to manage their online experiences. Remember, it's not just about fixing a problem. These talks can be helpful even if screen time isn't an issue.

Warning signs that your child's screen media use may be a problem

Signs of problematic media use in children and teens may include:

  • Your child becomes angry or irritable when they don't have access to media.

  • Their media use is affecting their grades or participation in family activities.

  • Media use interferes with your child getting enough sleep and exercise.

  • It is your child's only enjoyed activity or conversation topic.

How to get started using parental controls

There are many resources with information about the most popular video games and social media platforms. Many include feedback from other parents and kids, along with discussions about the features, benefits and drawbacks of controls. Many also offer clear, user-friendly instructions. Examples include:

What are the types of parental controls?

There are parental controls for all devices, including video game consoles, smartphones, tablets, and sometimes even desktop computers.

Parental control options include:

  • Blocking websites & apps

  • Filter content (such as by age rating)

  • Setting time limits

  • Chat and text monitoring

  • Spending

Other tools to build safe & healthy digital habits

Screen time trackers

Devices such as smartphones and tablets can show how much time all family members spend on them. Sometimes families do not realize how much time is spent on media. So, this can be a helpful activity. Examples of screen-time trackers are Apple Screen Time and Google Family Link.

Screen time tracking can also spark a conversation as to what other activities are being crowded out by screen time. How media is being used can be just as important as how much time is being consumed.

The AAP Family Media Plan

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Family Media Plan is another valuable resource to guide and inspire family discussions about mindful media use. The tool can help families find ways to balance screen time with other activities as well as to set boundaries. You can choose a few topic areas to focus on initially that they want to try out.

The Family Media Plan provides practical tips and encourages age-appropriate thinking and discussion about digital media. The goal of this tool is to help families feel less overwhelmed and help find alternatives for healthy on- and off-line activities.

The secret to successful family media use limits

We know that parental controls and limit setting works better alongside positive family communication and relationship-building. Don't just make rules! Play video games as a family. Co-view media. Encourage your child to teach you about their online activities.

Tips For Setting Effective Media Use Limits

Get good information.

Talk to your pediatrician and use reliable online resources. Also, talk frequently with your child. Kids can be great teachers about their media use!

Talk to kids about healthy media habits.

The AAP Family Media Plan is a great tool for discussion.

Use media as a family.

Co-viewing media and playing games together as a family are better than rules and limits alone.

Behavior issues with media limits: stay consistent

Also, while adults know healthy media limits are important, don't be surprised if your child disagrees. In fact, you should expect some possible behavior issues in reaction to limit setting. Staying consistent and following through are key to getting through these as your child learns healthier media habits.

More information

About Dr. Gerwin

Dr. Roslyn Gerwin, DODr. Roslyn Gerwin, DO is the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (ACAP) media liaison to the AAP Council on Communication and Media. She is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Maine Medical Center, a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts Medical School, and adjunct faculty for University of New England School of Osteopathic Medicine.

About Dr. Tomopoulos

Suzy Tomopoulos, MD, FAAPSuzy Tomopoulos, MD, FAAP is a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media (COCM) Executive Committee. Dr. Tomopoulos is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the NYU School of Medicine/Bellevue Hospital Center.

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications & Media (Copyright © 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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