Media Mentoring

Devorah Heitner has a Ph.D. in media, technology and society from Northwestern University and is author of the book Screenwise.

She agrees with other experts that more than two hours a day of screen time for young children doubles the risk of childhood obesity. Staring at screens can interfere with sleep, not only because of blue light but because of the emotional excitement of media content and the feeling of urgency about responding to messages.

But, according to what she told NPR in a recent article, her advice for families on how to set limits on screen time is unique. Heitner recommends that “families to switch from monitoring to mentoring. Policing their kids’ device use isn’t working. They need to understand why their kids are using devices and what their kids get out of those devices, so they can help the kids shift their habits.”

Heitner’s approach, “emphasizes a concept that’s also put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics in its guidelines for parents: media mentoring. As opposed to monitoring — with charts, schedules and parental controls — mentoring means understanding the media that kids use.

“Mentoring is knowing the difference between Minecraft and Fortnite. Mentoring is looking at the emotional effects of playing in a competitive mode versus a collaborative mode,” Heitner says.

“It’s understanding that … what your kids are doing is part of their identity, whether it’s through the kinds of people they follow on Tumblr or the kinds of things they share.”

Technology overuse ranked as the No. 1 fear of parents of teenagers in a national survey last year. To help curb those fears, Heitner came up with some helpful guidelines for parents to help mentor their children, instead of monitor:

1) Ban devices at mealtime.

2) Take phones away at night.

3) Impose more chores.  Heitner believes that, “It’s a source of self-esteem to get things done for the family and to be valued in the family.” Send older kids with a short grocery list into the store while you wait in the car. Teach nine-year-olds to do their own laundry.

4) Explore new interests. These can be interests they find online. Are they watching make-up tutorials? Have them try it out on Mom! Are they watching cooking shows on YouTube? Try a new recipe together.

5) Try more screen-free, whole-family activities like board games, a trip to the water park, or just a walk after dinner to get ice cream. You can define how big or small your activity should be.

6) Ask your kids to monitor their own mood after they play video games, say, on a color chart or checking in with you after using a device. This can help them develop self-regulation skills.

At Project B3, we know that taking away their iPhone, iPad, or gaming device is not going to be the realistic answer for our kids. We need to help them navigate their digital worlds and lead healthy, well-rounded, active lives. Maybe these tips on how to mentor their relationships with their devices with help strike a healthy balance in your home.