Craig Knippenberg, mental health expert was interviewed by Colorado Public  Radio during a series which examined the developing teen brain and the effects of stress, phone and screen usage and gaming. To listen to the full interview, click here. Below are some useful tips for helping your child to developed healthy habits around using devices and when your child may have a dependency or unhealthy relationship with electronics or gaming.

Tips for Managing Smart Phones

  1. Wait until 8th ! Craig is an advocate of the Wait until 8th campaign which promotes children remain phone free until 8th.   They have great guidelines and information for your reference.
  2. Set a good example with your own phone usage. Consider not using your phone during meal-times, in the car and when you are spending time with your family.
  3. When you give your child a phone, consider a flip phone. You may also want to have a “no-delete” rule for texting.
  4. Phones must be turned over when requested by parents and if not, establish a consequence.
  5. Create smart phone “free zones” and times in the house. Example: no phones at the dinner table, while driving or during family time.
  6. Talk to and do research with your kids about various apps. Help them be aware of various dangers (i.e.: bullying, predators, challenge games, pornography) and the potential social drama’s inherent in social media usage. Encourage open conversations and help your child problem solve when these issues arise.
  7. For older teens, teach and role model turning the apps to “no notifications” during family time and during homework.
  8. Discuss consequences ahead of time for misuse and how responsible usage equals increased freedoms.

Tips for Managing Electronics at Night

  1. Start with daily limits on electronic usage outside of required homework.
  2. Follow the advice of no screen time 30 – 45 minutes prior to bedtime, screen usage prior to bed has been shown to decrease sleep quality.
  3. Practice healthy sleep habits and have your child remove his phone from his room during sleeping hours. Consider designating a charging station for all phones, which should be central in your home.
  4. Use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning instead of a smart phone.
  5. Practice a consistent bedtime and practice pre-bedtime rituals, which help soothe your child/teen emotionally and promote a good night’s sleep for their growing brain.

Tips For Managing Gaming

  1. There are many ways to bond with your children, and with healthy limits, gaming can become one of them. Set a good example and play only a couple of games with your kids. Show them moderation by turning the game off.
  2. Limit the amount of time your child/teen can play to 30-45 minutes per day (if you allow electronics during the week) and perhaps two separate 45 minute sessions on weekends. Recent research has shown that a daily one-hour limit helps increase children’s sociability. That time limit includes gaming in your own home as well as at a friend’s house.
  3. Instead of implementing a time limit with Fortnite, consider having a two or three game limit. (This takes into account the fact that any child/teen would be horribly embarrassed to leave their friends in the middle of the game.) For other games, have a set time limit.
  4. Implement rules for when the game can be played. Gaming time should only take place after homework is complete and should end at least 45 minutes to an hour before bedtime (active screens stimulate the brain and can inhibit the release of Melatonin—our natural sleep compound).
  5. Consider taking a total break from the game if your son or daughter is caught sneaking it, continually fights about turning it off, or is becoming overly frustrated or emotional while playing or is irritable afterwards.
  6. Have a limit on how much money can be spent on Battle Passes. After all, what child/teen doesn’t want to be part of the latest fashion trend?
  7. Try to keeping gaming limited to family spaces.
  8. Keep school free of mobile devices. The temptation to hide a phone under a table in order to sneak a game in can be overwhelming for the developing brain.
  9. Be very strict with your time limits for first person shooter games.

Warning Signs When Your Child or Teen Is Becoming Dependent on Electronics

When do you know your child or teen has a problem regulating electronics?  Below are some warning signs.  If you begin to see changes in your child or teen, you may want to consider some professional help.

  1. It is hard for my child to stop using screen media.
  2. The amount of time my child wants to use screen media keep increasing.
  3. My child sneaks to use screen media.
  4. My child needs more intense and novel games and apps to reach the same level of satisfaction.
  5. When my child has had a bad day, screen media seems to be the only thing that helps him [or] her feel better.
  6. My child thinks obsessively about their game or phone when not using it.
  7. My child’s screen media use causes problems for the family.
  8. My child’s academics, activities or health are suffering because of electronics.
  9. My child is becoming more and more isolated.