Limiting Screen Time

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By: Angy Talbot (ECFE Blog Writer)

“Screen time” is a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games. Screen time is a sedentary activity, meaning you are being physically inactive while sitting down. Very little energy is used during screen time. Most American children spend about 3 hours a day watching TV. Added together, all types of screen time can total 5 to 7 hours a day. (MedicinePlus Medical Encyclopedia). I remember when my daughter was two years old, and before naptime every day, she would watch Dora on television. During dinnertime I would put on a DVD that she could watch so I could make dinner hands free and without any commotion. I asked her pediatrician how much television is all right and she told me no more than 2 hours a day after the age of two years old. My daughter is now 12 years old, and when she was younger, there were no smart phones, hand devices or apps. I remember being so cautious to be sure she didn’t have too much screen time. I can’t image what it is like for parents today with so much technology at their fingertips. I often see young children playing on screens of all sizes everywhere from the grocery store to the park. I remember as a kid looking out the window when we drove in the car, now children look at video screens.

I understand how convenient it is to keep children entertained with our various devices, video games, and television, but how much screen time is too much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use by children younger than age two and recommends limiting older children’s screen time to no more than 1 or 2 hours a day. Too much screen time has been linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Irregular sleep
  • Behavioral problems
  • Impaired academic performance
  • Violence
  • Less time for play

How to limit screen time – Suggestions from the Mayo Clinic

Your child’s total screen time might be greater than you realize. Start monitoring it and talk to your child about the importance of sitting less and moving more. Also, explain screen time rules — and the consequences of breaking them. In the meantime, take simple steps to reduce screen time. For example:

  • Eliminate background TV. If the TV is turned on — even if it’s just in the background — it’s likely to draw your child’s attention. If you’re not actively watching a show, turn off the TV.
  • Keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom. Children who have TVs in their bedrooms watch more TV than children who don’t have TVs in their bedrooms. Monitor your child’s screen time and the websites he or she is visiting by keeping TVs and computers in a common area in your house.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV. Allowing your child to eat or snack in front of the TV increases his or her screen time. The habit also encourages mindless munching, which can lead to weight gain.
  • Set school day rules. Most children have limited free time during the school week. Don’t let your child spend all of it in front of a screen. Also, avoid using screen time as a reward or punishment. This can make screen time seem even more important to children.
  • Talk to your child’s caregivers. Encourage other adults in your child’s life to limit your child’s screen time, too.
  • Suggest other activities. Rather than relying on screen time for entertainment, help your child find other things to do, such as reading, playing a sport, getting outside, helping with cooking, or trying a board game.
  • Set a good example. Be a good role model by limiting your own screen time.
  • Unplug it. If screen time is becoming a source of tension in your family, unplug the TV, turn off the computer, or put away the smart phones or video games for a while. You might designate one day a week or month as a screen-free day for the whole family. To prevent unauthorized TV viewing, put a lock on your TV’s electrical plug. (Mayo Clinic, Children and TV: Limiting Your Child’s Screen Time. August, 2013)

With the use of so much technology, it can be a challenge to manage our children’s screen time. We need to do more planning when it comes to the use of media by giving children limits and have times set aside for their use. Try to cut down on your child’s screen time by:

  • Decide which programs to watch ahead of time. Turn off the TV when those programs are over.
  • Suggest other activities, such as family board games, puzzles, or going for a walk.
  • Be a good role model as a parent. Decrease your own screen time to 2 hours a day.
  • Think of some activities you and your child can do instead of using a device or screen. The more you turn the screen off, the easier it becomes to keep it off.

When Steve Jobs was asked by New York Times reporter Nick Bilton, “So your kids must love the iPad?” Jobs responded: “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”