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Kids & Screen Time: 5 C's Questions for School-Age Children

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School-age children (5-10 years old) are beyond the big-emotions early childhood phase as they start to become more rule-based thinkers. Your child can probably talk more about their feelings now. They are also learning to read and pay attention to schoolwork and build friendships.

These are the important developmental tasks that media shouldn't crowd out. Despite their growing maturity, kids are not ready for social media accounts at this age. Use the 5 C's of media use to help guide your child at this age.

What are the 5 C's?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health developed the 5 C's as an age-by-age guide to parenting around media and building healthy digital habits as your child grows. See "Kids & Screens: How to Use the 5 C's of Media Guidance."

5 C's questions for parents of school-age children

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Child

Who is your child, how do they react to media, and what are their motivations for using it?

Children's unique strengths and challenges start to become clear in elementary school. They may struggle with attention (like ADHD), social skills (like autism), reading or other academics (like learning disabilities), or managing their mood (like anxiety or depression). They are also likely to show interest or skills in activities. You may be learning that they are great artists, dancers, are good with animals or science facts. It's important to carve out time to build upon these strengths and interests.

2. Content

What is worth their attention?

Many kids start to love video games and YouTube at this age but can easily access content that is age-inappropriate (violent, sexual or rude, for example). Read reviews on Common Sense Media to find out what shows, games and movies are the right fit for their maturity level.

Family settings or parental controls, although not 100% effective, can help filter content on devices your child uses. Watch shows and play video games together to see if you like the messages and behaviors they convey. If not, find alternatives.

AVOID "Teen"-rated video games which have more gore and sexual content.

3. Calm

How do they calm their emotions or go to sleep?

Many school-aged children like to use media for a mental break at the end of a school day. Be sure that this break doesn't get in the way of homework and other activities, such as meals together.

Put devices away at bedtime so that kids can settle their brains and bodies to sleep. Teach them techniques such as deep breathing and listening to quiet music to help calm their brains.

4. Crowding Out

What does media get in the way of?

Video games and online videos can have designs that promote extended use—for hours at a time. Talk with your kids about balancing time on screens so that there is enough time to sleep, read, draw, do homework, hang out, play sports with other kids and chat with family. Parents can role model putting phones down at bedtime, dinnertime and on car rides.

AVOID letting screens be your child's go-to whenever they get bored or frustrated with homework or other challenging tasks.

5. Communication

How can you talk about media to raise a smart and responsible child?

This is a great time for conversations about media. Kids this age have a burst of understanding of things like advertising, privacy and concepts like right vs. wrong. By regularly having open-minded talks about media, you help build your child's critical thinking skills. It also helps you be the "voice" in your child's head when they become more independent in the teen years.

Let your child know that they can talk to you about anything negative or creepy they see online. If they've gotten a phone and have started texting friends, check in about how those interactions are going.

To download a PDF version of these tips, tap here.

Make a media plan for the whole family (parents too!)

The Family Media Plan can be especially helpful for kids this age, who are receptive to setting up and following rules. While creating a plan together as a family, be sure to have conversations about media. Keep limits so that kids can get their schoolwork and other activities done, and check what they are playing or watching. Although children in this age group are not yet ready for social media accounts, kid-friendly messaging apps might be a workable alternative for your family.

More information

Editor's note: The 5 C's were inspired and built upon the "''3 C's advice about kids and screens" developed years ago by education expert and author Lisa Guernsey.

Funding for the AAP Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health was made possible by Grant No. SM087180 from SAMHSA of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, SAMHSA/HHS or the U.S. Government.

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American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Center of Excellence on Social Media and Youth Mental Health (Copyright © 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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