Whether in front of the TV, video game, or, more recently, mobile phones or tablets, the last generations were created looking at electronic screens. And while it is tough to stay away from them nowadays, looking at screens is also a sedentary activity. That means kids are usually seated and physically inactive while doing it.
When parents do not set limits, children overdo screen time. Some spend a good part of the day exposed to these screens. A survey released just before the COVID-19 lockdown revealed that 70 percent of American children have smartphones by age 12. Another astonishing number: screen time can reach 9 hours a day for the average teenager.
If you care about how long your children’s screen time is, here’s what you need to know to manage it and discipline children and teens not to abuse electronic screens.
Consequences of High Screen Time
Parents and educators need to keep in mind that exaggerated exposure to TV, computers, video games, and smartphones is found to have physical and psychological consequences. Regarding the physical aspect, too much screen time promotes a sedentary lifestyle and prevents children from being as physically active as they should be.
TV commercials and internet ads promote unhealthy food choices to make matters worse and children are usually eating while watching. There’s also the infamous blue light. Electronic screens emanate a light that affects our eyes directly. At night, this light keeps the brain awake as if it were daytime, disrupting sleep patterns and making it hard for kids to sleep.
Psychologically, the effects are no less harmful. Children and teenagers may have mood changes and difficulty relaxing. Unrestricted TV and internet access can also expose kids to negative elements such as:
- Violent or other graphical content images.
- Videos of stunts or “challenges” that may inspire unsafe, risk-taking behavior.
- Exposure to swearing and negative stereotypes.
- Possibility of being targeted by cyberbullies and predators.
- Access to misleading or inaccurate information.
Therefore, parents need to be able to manage their children’s screen time. But how to do it?
Managing Screen Time
A few years ago, parents only had to worry about the TV or the video game, but today screens are everywhere – and they’re here to stay. You cannot prevent children from having access to them. What you can do is manage the way they do it.
Expert recommendations have been updated for new times. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, for example, children between 18 and 24 months can already have access to educational programming on electronic devices, but only with the assistance of a caregiver.
Kids between 2 and 5 years should have their non-educational screen time limited to 1 hour during the week and up to 3 hours on the weekends. It is you who should be concerned about setting boundaries for children concerning electronic devices. Here are some practical tips for dealing with this issue.
- Limit screen time by encouraging healthy habits, sports, and outdoor activities.
- During free time, encourage children to engage in hobbies that don’t involve screens, such as board games, puzzles, or art and music.
- Turn off all screens during meals and other family reunions.
- Use parental controls whenever possible. Today it’s possible to program the TV and even video games to automatically turn off after some time.
- Turn off all screens (including smartphones) between 30 and 60 minutes before bedtime. If necessary, remove them from the kids’ bedrooms.
- As parents are role models for their children, they should decrease their own screen time, at least during family time.
Remember that excessive screen time can also cause eye disorders such as eye fatigue, dry and/or irritated eyes, and even nearsightedness. By limiting the use of electronic devices, you can reduce the risk of visual impairment. But the need for kid’s glasses might be an inevitability down the road for other reasons.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Even if parents cut down on their kids’ screen time, they still should know what they’re doing online or watching on TV. Avoid censorship, but be prepared to make them respect age ratings or to explain and talk about more sensitive topics.
First and foremost and before allowing kids to interact with any electronics, it’s important to teach them about privacy online and the dangers of talking to strangers online. Instruct kids to never send private information or photographs to other users, especially when they do not know them personally.
Less Screen Time Also Depends on Parents
Parental behavior is critical in how much and how their children will use electronic devices. Parents have likely already handed their cellphone to their kids at one point or another to keep them conveniently distracted. This habit is a lot less healthy than one might think, and it could be encouraging children early on to use screens to disconnect from the world around them.
So be responsible in the way you address this issue. Don’t try to ban the use of screens either. It will only make children look outside for what they don’t have at home – this time without monitoring and a filter. The amount of screen time should be based on a child’s maturity level and responsibilities.