Family experts say that an open smartphone is a major sign that a child may be putting themselves at a safety risk and will do worse in school — and it’s up to parents to keep digital device usage down if junior is going to stay safe and get good grades.

The data certainly backs that sentiment up.

One survey from Pew Research shows that 65% of parents “say they worry at least some about their teen spending too much time in front of screens, including a third who worry a lot about screen time usage.”

Yet according to another new survey from SellCell.com, a cell phone trade-in platform, the kids actually aren’t all right when it comes to digital device over-usage.

This from the survey:

  • 42% of kids are spending 30+ hours a week on their cell phones.
  • 40% of U.S. kids are 6 or under when they first use a cell phone.
  • 65% of preteen kids under the age of 13 own their own phone.
  • 40% of parents admit to allowing their kids to use cell phones to give themselves a break.
  • 25% of parents admit to spending up to $250 on their child’s phone.

According to the study, the research “clearly demonstrates” that children are given access to cell phones from a very early age because parents feel that it is beneficial for their kids.

“In order for parents to make changes or reduce the screen time, they need to clearly understand what is an acceptable level of usage for their children,” SellCell.com reports. “Parents are setting their own parameters on the information or the lack of it. They need to research best practice guidelines for screen time usage and develop firmer and clearer guidelines for their kids.”

Technology safety experts agree, adding that overuse of digital devices can stunt a child’s emotional growth.

“The experts are correct; excessive screen time is a slow-motion car crash decreasing the ability of children to learn both academically and grow socially,” says Brandon Ackroyd, a smartphone safety expert at the U.K.-based TigerMobiles.com. “For example, there is a distinct lack of empathy and compassion deficit amongst children who can’t put their smartphone down.”

He says, “There is no doubt in my mind that screen time is damaging school performance amidst other risks amongst children.”

Setting guidelines

What is less clear is how to exercise the best ways to control a child’s screen use.

“Limiting screen time can be challenging at times,” Ackroyd says. “But even if your child throws tantrums or gets upset when their screen time is limited, it’s important to remember that you are doing them a favor in the long run.”

To help parents out, we put the question of limited screen time use to a group of family and child behavioral experts, who offer the following tips for parents to better control and improve their child’s digital device experience:

Remove screens from your child’s bedroom. Having a tablet, phone, or computer in the bedroom is a huge distraction for your child, especially when they’re meant to be studying or falling asleep. “It’s been linked to kids getting lower test scores, so limiting screen time from their bedroom is a priority,” Ackroyd says.

Set firm time limits. Screen time should be limited to at most an hour a day during the week and two hours a day on the weekends, says Heather Ackley, M.S.W., and the executive director of Colorado-based New Hope Parenting Solutions.

“This is a lot of screen time and often children won’t have that much time to use devices because of homework and extracurricular activities anyway,” she says. “While most schools encourage students to utilize their cell phones for different things throughout the day, you can also check their phones at night if you are concerned they are using it more than they should while in school.”

Leverage screen time-limit technologies. Controlling screen time usage is tough, especially if you’re at work and your child is either home, at school, or at a friend’s house.

Josh Wardini, co-founder of SerpWatch.io, and a technology expert who’s worked on “kid-safe” phone technologies, suggests using a mobile app for limiting screen time. “My favorite is the Screen Time app, which offers a 14-day free trial and thoroughly tracks digital usage,” Wardini says. “The feature that is the most useful comes in the paid plan —  the Daily Time Limit feature.”

Educate your kids. Instead of monitoring your kid’s online behavior and receiving instant messages when they have an online activity, Wardini favors a healthy dose of early education about phone use and the internet. “Talk to your child about device safety and etiquette issues, and what happens to their brain when they have too much screen time,” he says. “Have them understand the risks, and agree to have limited screen time.”

Use Google’s Family Link feature. Alexandra Bubela, a parenting expert and founder of the NourishMomma.com blog, advises parents who use Android devices to use Google’s Family Link feature.

“It enables the parent to create children accounts for children under 13,” she explains.

The kids are added to Google’s family account, which has several great features, including:

  • Sets daily time frames in which the phone/tablet can be used.
  • Within this time frame, the parent can set a maximum number of hours in which the phone can be used.
  • Provides for location updates.
  • Lets parents control “Allowed/blocked” mobile apps list on the child’s phone.

Any app the child wants to install needs parent approval, says Bubela. “It can be done on the device directly, by inputting the parent’s email password or by sending a request to the parent’s phone,” she says. “The child cannot modify anything on his or her phone without access to the parent’s phone.”

Be a good role model. As a parent, you need to lead by example and limit your own time spent in front of the TV, on the computer, or using a smartphone or tablet, says Ackroyd. “Children copy their parents’ habits and will imitate what they see,” he says. “A great place to start would be to have ‘screen-free’ times throughout the day, where you leave your devices in a different room.”

Above all, stick to the new rules. The best strategy for parents looking for a better grip on their child’s digital device screen-time activity? Be firm and stick to what you know is correct.

“I am not a massive fan of negotiating with a child, as you undermine your authority,” Ackroyd notes. “Your goal is to give the child some power in the situation — albeit with good alternative choices.”

SOURCES

SellCell Survey — Sarah McConomy — Email: sarah.mcconomy@sellcell.com

Brandon Ackroyd — brandon@tigermobiles.com

Heather Ackley — Email: Heather@NewHopeParentingSolutions.org

Josh Wardini — Email: josh@joshwardini.me

Alexandra Bubela — Email: bubela.alexandra88@gmail.com