Teens playing video games

Boys Town South Florida Helps Parents Implement Healthy Screen Time Habits for Children

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and research from the CDC shows that children who are “plugged in” all the time are not as happy as kids who spend less time using media and technology.  Boys Town South Florida has some helpful advice for parents on setting priorities regarding technology and helping their children manage screen time, including the popular world of gaming, to achieve a healthy balance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics still advises restricting daily use of electronic media to no more than two hours (TV, video games, phones, tablets, computers, etc.). However, children and teenagers now use interactive electronic devices for enjoyment for an average of more than nine hours a day. This is a significant amount of time that many kids and teenagers would normally spend sleeping or engaging in any other productive activity during the day. For this reason, parents must educate themselves and establish ground rules and guidelines to help their children learn appropriate and healthful electronic device use.  

Steve Arcidiacono, Ph.D., a Florida licensed clinical psychologist at Boys Town South Florida, and a recognized expert in behavioral interventions with youth and families. He regularly trains mental health professionals and the community on healthy sleep and gaming habits. The gaming industry is approaching a $200 billion market, with 91% of children ages 8-18 playing video games. Addiction to video games, coupled with children watching daily TV, phones, tablets, and computers, results in a variety of emotional and behavioral concerns.

“The reward system in our brain releases dopamine while gaming, and excessive play can lead other activities to feel less gratifying in comparison,” says Dr. Arcidiacono. “I’m most concerned when children and families struggle to limit gaming despite impairment of functioning such as chronic school avoidance, sleep disturbance, impaired social connections, and poor self-care like hygiene and eating habits. Poor gaming habits are associated with behavioral and mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and worsening of ADHD symptoms. The key is maintaining balance and priorities”.

The parenting challenge is not to prevent children from using media and technology but to achieve a healthy balance between the time spent connected to technology and having it unplugged at home. Developing a family media policy is an excellent way to achieve balance in the amount of time your children spend on cell phones, watching TV, and using computers.

When creating a family media policy, Boys Town recommends starting with the TIME acronym:

T = Talk. The first and most important step parents can take in deciding how their families should interact with technology is to talk with each other about what role it should play in their home. Explain that the family media policy will outline who can use a cell phone, computer, and TV in the home; where that technology can be used; when kids can and can't use that technology; and what content can and can't be texted, tweeted, chatted, searched, and viewed.

I =Instruct. Parents are their children's first and best teachers. Discuss your family media use policy with your children and lay out clearly defined consequences for violating it. Remind your kids that technology is a privilege, not a right.

M =Monitor. Be bold and monitor what your children are texting, tweeting, watching, and doing while on their cell phones, iPads, and computers. Use a suitable software program to block content and track what your children say and do online. Tell your children you're monitoring them, and make sure they understand that it's to ensure they stay safe online.

E =Encourage. Praise your children when you notice them doing something positive online, such as when they complete a research project and earn a good grade or when you come across a chat or text conversation in which your child has encouraged or helped a friend in a positive way. Always be on the lookout to catch your kids being good online.

Personalizing Your Policy

Nobody knows or loves your kids quite like you do. A personalized family media use policy sets the ground rules for media consumption in your home and gives your children clear, loving parameters within which to operate.

The parenting experts at Boys Town have created an email series called Kids and Technology to help parents deal with the risks and benefits of new technologies. Boys Town also provides useful tools for parents, such as guidelines for determining how much screen time is appropriate for kids and tips for keeping them safe while they are online. 

a.       Email series: Tech Email Series (

b.       Guide: The Digital Age (

c.       Family Media Policy: Family Media Policy (