By Carolyn Crist

(Reuters Health) – The TECH parenting style, an acronym for Talk, Educate, Co-view and House Rules, could help families manage screen time at home, researchers say.

As parents figure out their own media use habits, they can also help their children understand how to monitor and limit themselves, the authors of a new perspective paper write in the journal Pediatrics.

“We believe that better home media management will lead to lower youth risk for engagement in health risk behaviors such as substance abuse or risky sexual behaviors later in development,” said lead author Joy Gabrielli, a researcher at the Dartmouth College Geisel School of Medicine in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends talking with kids about the types and amounts of media used by each family member.

“Some researchers have referred to media as a type of ‘super peer’ in the lives of children,” Gabrielli told Reuters Health by email. “If children are being exposed to things like substance use or risky sexual behavior, and these exposures do not include any depictions of negative consequences, children may form overly positive and unrealistic beliefs about risk behaviors.”

In the TECH model, the “T” stands for “Talk to your kids about their media use and monitor their activities.” The authors recommend asking questions in an open and nonjudgmental way, staying informed about new media sources and phone apps, and finding out what TV shows, movies, social media, video games and apps their friends like. In a 2015 survey, about 84 percent of preteens between ages 8-12 said their parents talked to them about media use, but only 54 percent said their parents knew “a lot” about their media use.

“One of the central ways for parents to be aware of their children’s media diet is to have the child openly disclose that information to parents so informed discussions can take place,” said Laura Padilla-Walker of the Brigham Young University School of Family Life in Provo, Utah.

Padilla-Walker, who wasn’t involved with this study, is researching how parents can help children disclose media behavior naturally rather than being secretive about it.

“Half of the battle to being a more effective parent is knowing what you are doing wrong so you can change your own behavior and help your children make good media choices,” she told Reuters Health by email.

In the TECH model, the “E” stands for “Educate children about the risks present across various forms of media.” Gabrelli’s team suggests talking openly about the marketing practices of the alcohol, tobacco, food and cannabis industries and discussing how these ads rarely depict negative consequences such as getting sick or getting in trouble. As part of the conversation, parents should also talk about the norms and legal consequences associated with substance use and risky sexual behaviors.

The “C” stands for “Co-view and co-use media with kids actively.” Parents can watch appropriate, kid-targeted media with their kids, turn off inappropriate content and explain why it’s not appropriate, and spend time together learning about new apps, how they work, who funds them, and what the messages are.

“Parents see their children engaging in media use frequently, but it’s hard to fully understand what your child is doing on all these different platforms,” said Alexis Lauricella of the Northwestern University Center on Media and Human Development in Evanston, Illinois.

Lauricella, who wasn’t involved with this paper, has also researched the positive role that technology plays in child development.

“Technology is not going anywhere, and we need to help adults understand what youth are doing with technology today, what impact it may have, and specifically how they can get involved and support positive outcomes of media technology use,” Lauricella said in an email.

To effectively do this, parents can follow the “H” in the TECH model, or “Establish clear and effective house rules for media use.” This could designate media-free zones at home, such as the dinner table, create media-free times such as homework and exercise time, and store digital devices in a central house location – not in bedrooms – overnight and an hour before bedtime. In addition, parents should set up a regular schedule to review apps, games, social media sites, and shows that kids watch, as well as what ratings and content are allowable.

Parents and kids can develop a Family Media Use Plan ( that creates an agreement for what types of media should be used and for how long each day.

“We hope to develop additional materials for parents that will support their understanding of media-related risks and ways to intervene,” Gabrielli said. “For example, many parents may not know that there are alcohol brand appearances in child-rated shows and movies or that they can watch videos about ‘how to roll a joint’ on the Internet.”

SOURCE: Pediatrics, online June 28, 2018.