A Healthy Media Diet
Suzie Hacker, LMSW Middle School Counselor

A healthy media diet balances activities (games, social media, TV), time, and choices (YouTube, Minecraft, Star Wars) with offline activities (sports, face-to-face conversations, daydreaming).

Many parents struggle with exactly what's ok for their children and families. Is a half-hour show okay but a full-length movie "bad"? How much gaming should you allow when your child also uses his computer for homework? And when does a passion for video games become problematic? The truth is, there is no magic formula. Just as every family differs in what they eat, when they eat, and what they like, a healthy media diet is different for every family. The key is making sure that the things that are important to your family are fairly balanced over the long term.

A family's goal is to have an older teen that can successfully manage his/her own media diet. Setting up kids for success with technology starts early and needs consistency. It involves more than just putting in technology time limits and parental blocks.

Here are some tips that can help set your family up for success:

Find balance. Instead of counting daily screen-time minutes, aim for a balance throughout the week. Get your kids to help plan a week that includes stuff they have to do and stuff they like to do, such as schoolwork, activities, chores, reading, family time, and TV or gaming. Decide on limits and behavior, and make the expectations clear to everyone.

Walk the walk. Our children learn about appropriate communication by watching and listening to the adults around them. Because online conversations and conduct can be invisible, occasionally narrate as you are writing texts or social media comments while your children are in earshot.

Talk about it. Ask questions about kids' favorite games, shows, and characters. Discuss ideas and issues they read about or learn about through a TV show or a game. This is an opportunity for bonding, learning, and sharing your values. Keep an ear out for aggressive trash talking, hate speech, rude images or anything hurtful.

Create tech-free zones. Set rules that fit your family, such as "no devices during dinner," "no social media during homework," or "all screens off before bedtime." This applies to all members of the family, children and parents. Model putting your devices away while driving, at mealtimes and during important conversations.

Check ratings and develop their instincts. Choose age-appropriate, high-quality media and tech for younger kids. While there are several good parental monitor options, it does not replace your being involved in their online world. It is important to help kids learn to trust their guts so they can suss out creepy, risky or otherwise unsafe online situations, especially as they grow into teens that will have much more independence in their online life. Talk through a few scenarios: What if someone asked to take a conversation private? What if someone has a post that seems inappropriate? Remind them that the moment they feel uncomfortable, they need to shut it down and let an adult know.