Tips to help families manage screen time battles from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Digital Center

BOSTON — YouTube, Roblox, TikTok and video games: the battle over screen time is a big one for many local families.

Boston 25 News talked to the head of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital for some practical advice.

“As my mom says, these things are designed to make you stick and stay. And that’s what happened to me… I’d basically just sit there for the whole day and just like watch and watch and watch,” 12-year-old Margaret told Boston 25′s Vanessa Welch from her home in Newton. “I was definitely a little more fragile when it came to my emotions.”

Her mom, Danielle, says the issue became more obvious as the pandemic was ending. “As the world is going back to normal and she wasn’t going back to normal, it started to become really clear that this had developed as a real problem,” she said.

When tactics at home weren’t working, the family turned to Dr. Michael Rich, head of the Digital Wellness Lab.

“The kids that come to us are often really in tough shape. They are, you know, staying up all night gaming. They’re not getting up for school in the morning. They’re having, you know, academic problems. They’re having behavioral problems,” Dr. Rich said.

A common mistake parents make in that situation, according to Rich, is trying to make kids quit cold turkey.

“It is something these kids need to function in school, to function at work, and eventually to communicate with people. And ultimately we have to help them self-regulate as opposed to abstaining from it,” Rich said.

Dr. Rich suggests the following 5 M’s:

Start with Modeling good behavior.

Then Mentor your kids, by setting clear expectations.

“We have to be very explicit with these kids. Here’s what you do. Here’s what you don’t do. Before they get the phone, decide what the consequences should be, should they go off the rail,” Rich said. And he said to let them mentor you as well. Sit down and play a game together so they can share with you what they’re doing.

Next: Monitor their usage, and be consistent. Look at what they’re doing online and if they break the rules, follow the consequences you’ve established.

Mastery: Explore how digital tools can be used effectively, by changing their behavior, to be mindful use of the screens as opposed to mindless use.

And finally, Make Memories- share an experience away from the screens, so they can experience that connection.

Margaret tells Boston 25 News, the system is working for her. “I have like, a lot of things to play with, like my dog, Petey, or read a book or play a game by myself,” se said. “I feel compared to what I used to be. I feel much more connected with the world.”

One last group of hints from Dr. Rich: his so-called “killer bees”:

-Be balanced in screen and non-screen time

-Be mindful how we use them

-Be present for your kids

-And be bored. He says that’s where creativity and imagination happen.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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