Think, for a moment, about the screens you come into contact with each day. There are mobile phones, computer monitors and televisions, plus game consoles, tablets and more. In an increasingly wireless world, these devices present new challenges for parents.
Some on-screen programs and games are educational, introducing children to their numbers, letters and colors, along with racial and ethnic awareness, and interpersonal skills. But, unstructured play and human interaction are also important, since they teach youngsters to solve problems and think creatively.
The impacts of too much screen time for children
Excessive television time puts children at higher risk of social, emotional and attention problems, and increases incidences of bullying. Video games can also shorten young people's attention spans.
The chance of obesity rises with the more television a child watches. Mindless snacking and advertisements for junk food further compound the problem. Spending extra time in front of the computer to watch YouTube videos or the TV to play video games can also contribute to weight gain.
Screen time interferes with the body’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, and the resulting fatigue can impact school performance or overall mood.
Inappropriate content can desensitize children to violence and risky sexual behaviors, leading them to view such actions as normal and accepted.
A 2014 study of pre-teens found that too much screen time inhibits nonverbal communication skills External Site and the recognition of emotional cues.
Screen time statistics
According to a 2016 report by Common Sense Media Opens PDF, teens are spending an average of 9 hours per day using media. This includes activities like watching television, playing video games and using tablets and smartphones. The amount of time excludes time spent on school or homework. Also according to the research, kids just slightly younger — 8 to 12 years old — are spending six hours per day with media.
With children's screen-use times on the rise, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) periodically releases updated media use guidelines External Site. To prevent the negative effects of digital overload, the organization recommends limiting television, tablet, phone and computer time to less than one or two hours a day for children. Toddlers under the age of two should be kept away from screens entirely.
It's not a lost cause, parents. There are some things you can do to maintain media balance in your own home.
For starters, model good behavior. Yes, that means you need to put down your phone, too. Limit your own screen time, and follow similar limits as those you set for your children. For example, instead of eating dinner in front of the TV or the phone, eat as a family and have a meaningful conversation about the day.
"The adults at the table should take the opportunity to lead a mealtime discussion," says Dr. Michael McCormick, medical director at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. "It is not a time for debate or judgement of responses. Ask if there was anything different about their day today. Keep the tone light and purposeful."
To keep screen-time in check for the whole family, be creative by putting together a “media jail” box where all devices go during set hours of the evening. Monitor children’s Internet use, and take advantage of parental controls on computers and televisions. Keep youngsters off social media sites, too, limiting the use to teens old enough to discuss and understand appropriate use and consequences.
10 tactics for limiting screen time
- Set and enforce daily limits on screen time.
- Watch programs with your children, so you can monitor content. Take the time to discuss values, empathy and the importance of good choices.
- Discuss the serious consequences of sending inappropriate text messages and cyber bullying.
- Record shows and watch them later, skipping through the commercials selling junk food and unnecessary items.
- Select shows, websites and games that are age-appropriate and educational.
- Turn off the television while eating meals and snacks. These are good times to talk as a family.
- Make bedrooms “screen-free zones,” and set a media curfew before bedtime.
- Avoid using shows and games as rewards and punishments, as this makes screens seem even more important to children.
- Add physical activity to viewing time by stretching or staging jumping jack competitions during commercials. Opt for video games that encourage movement.
- Remind youngsters about the importance of exercise, and track your family’s screen time versus active time. You can even take advantage of screen time monitoring functions on your phone. Once you understand your habits, you can make even better lifestyle choices.
Still feel like it's impossible to limit screen time for your family? The AAP has dozens of resources External Site available on media and children, including this media use plan External Site. By developing a plan for your household, you can make sure that media is used thoughtfully and appropriately, and doesn't interrupt important activities like spending time outdoors, getting enough sleep, and talking to each other.