Should you manage your children’s screen time?

Parents watching kids while they’re on their tablet.

The Omnipresence of Screens

Everywhere we go, everything we do in our modern lives, screens are ubiquitous. Computers, televisions, tablets, and smartphones are everywhere, and most of us spend hours of our days staring at screens. We’ve long known this is not healthy for growing brains but, for most parents, the pandemic derailed our efforts to keep screentime under control. Having gotten into the habit of bigger kids doing school online and little kids being entertained with tablets, limiting screentime has become a vague and complicated effort. It is time, though to retake control and manage our children’s screen time.

What’s So Bad About Screen Time?

Really, what’s the big deal? After all, modern technology has many benefits, often delivered through screens! Screens provide educational opportunities to kids, help them learn about current events, expose them to new information, and allow them to connect with friends and family members. They can collaborate with other students on school assignments and projects, and find support when they need it by accessing online support networks. However, despite these benefits, screen time poses definite risks to children and adolescents. Too much screen time can hinder the development of a child’s brain, because children need human interaction and experiences in nature. Children who have too much screen time may not build the language, cognitive, and social skills they need to succeed in life. To develop these skills, they need to read, practice problem-solving in the natural environment, engage in artistic pursuits, and interact with their peers and adults. Spending too much time in front of screens negatively affects a child’s attention span and ability to regulate emotions. What’s more, children who are continually entertained by screens miss out on the benefits of boredom. Being bored provides kids with opportunities to be creative, develop self-sufficiency, and learn to solve their own problems. Screen time can limit children’s physical activity and disrupt their sleep, leading to compromised physical health. Worse, unrestricted access to screens opens opportunities for children to be exposed to content that is inappropriate for their age level and, in some cases, unsafe.

How Much is Too Much?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the following guidelines apply to daily screen time for children.

  • No screen time for children under 6 months.
  • No screen time for kids 18 to 24 months, unless they are video chatting or co-playing with parents.
  • One hour or less of screentime for kids aged two to five, and that hour should be high-quality, educational content.
  • Over six, personal time limits should be established to ensure that kids get the right amount of exercise, sleep, and time for other activities. In general, there should be no more than two hours of non-educational screen time in any given day.

How to Make it Happen

Let’s face it, limiting screen time is hard. If your children are used to having free rein in this area, you are going to get some resistance when you try to set limits. Here are some tips that might help you accomplish this herculean task.

  • Put your own screens down. If you are consistently scrolling or binge-watching, it’s going to be hard to convince your kids not to follow suit. Make a point to engage in other activities, either as a family or on your own, including reading, hobbies, and being active. Establish “screen-free” times, when everyone in the family puts away their devices.
  • Keep screens out of the hands of little ones. You can delay the screen addiction by keeping screens away from young children as long as possible. This can be tough, because there’s a temptation to use screens to entertain them in tricky situations, but it’s best to avoid the electronic babysitter.
  • Be clear and firm with screen time rules. Even if you are getting pushback- (and you’re likely to get pushback)- remain consistent in asserting and enforcing screen time limits. Make sure everyone, including both parents, grandparents, babysitters, and anyone else who will be in charge at some point, is clear on the rules.
  • Make screen alternatives fun! Play with your kids! Go to the park or just go outside and play with sidewalk chalk or bubbles. Play hide and seek, read books together, or draw silly pictures. Play board games, do arts and crafts, put together puzzles, or teach your kids a new skill, like photography or gardening. Build pillow forts, create indoor obstacle courses, or have a dance party. You can also tuck a few toys and games away to introduce as something new during screen-free time. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but just a few ideas to get you thinking about all the screen-free ways you can interact with your children, or get them doing something fun on their own.
  • Remember, it’s all about balance. Screens themselves are not inherently good or bad. Use them wisely, to help kids learn new things, or to give them something to work towards, as they earn screen time by doing chores or accomplishing goals. Aim to create a healthy balance for all members of your family, so that everyone can be happier and healthier.

Support for Your Family as it Grows

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