Giving your phone to your kid while you are out at a restaurant, or turning on the tablet while you finish up work can be tempting. Screens can be a quick, convenient way to keep your kids occupied. Because of this, screen time for kids is increasing.
The average American kid spends three hours a day in front of the television. When you factor in all different types of screens — school computers, tablets, phones — that daily average bumps up to 5 to 7 hours a day.
Although screens are all around us every day, the negative side effects of too much screen time, especially for children, are overwhelming. Too much screen time can lead to a child with screen addiction or childhood obesity.
Recommended screen times vary by age, but typically experts recommend kids ages 2 to 5 spend no more than 1 to 2 hours a day on screens. Learn more about the possible dangers of allowing too much screen time and ways to decrease and manage your kids’ digital time.
According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, too much screen time can cause:
Disruptive sleeping patterns: Health experts believe the bright lights of screens can impact our circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Teens who have phones or other screens in their rooms may stay up later on those devices.
Obesity: Anne Harguth, a registered dietician in Minnesota, suggests there is a link between increased screen time and rising obesity rates. Children who watch television or play on devices are spending less time running around outside and being physically active. Kids are also exposed to more commercials for sugary treats and may be more prone to snack while sitting in front of the TV.
Behavioral problems: Researchers are studying the effects of increased screen time on kids’ behavior and mental health. For instance, researchers at the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa discovered kids were more likely to make poor decisions and behave impulsively if their screen time was above the recommended amount. A Canadian study with the University of Alberta found parents of children who exceeded the recommended screen time were more likely to describe their kids as inattentive and distracted.
Poor academic performance: In a recent study, the researchers at The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia discovered that too much screen time had a negative impact on the students’ academic performance. Children who watched more than two hours of television a day were more likely to have lower reading scores.
Trying to manage screen time, especially when there are so many different types of electronics out there, can be challenging. However, with a few steps, you can actively decrease the hours your child interacts with screens.
Turn them off: Do you have the television going in the background? Maybe you check your phone while cooking dinner. One quick way to decrease screen time is to turn your screens off. If you are not actively watching the television, do not have it on in the background.
Set time limits: Avoiding technology altogether may not be practical for your home, but you can decrease the amount of time your kids spend on screens by setting time limits. Using an actual timer or alarm can help you keep track to make sure your five more minutes does not become 12 more minutes.
Screen-free rooms: Help your kids stay screen-free before bed by keeping technology out of their rooms. Consider not having televisions in your children’s rooms. Have your preteens and teens give their phones, and any other electronic devices, to you before bed for you to keep overnight.
Encourage other activities: Swap out television and video games with other activities. Incorporate a family board game night into your routine or go on walks or bike rides as a family. Challenge your kids to brainstorm other ways to spend their time.
Many devices now give you the option to check your screen time. Your phone or tablet may tell you how many hours a day you are on your phone and can even tell you how much time you spend on specific apps, like social media apps. Knowing how much time your kids spend in front of screens can help you decide how and where to cut screen time.
There are many apps available to help you monitor screen time. Some apps like Freedom, RescueTime, and Flipd can help track how much time you are on your device, set limits, or give you gentle reminders when your screen time is maxed out.
Other popular apps to help you monitor your kids’ screen time include:
- Boomerang Parental Control
- Qustodio Parental Control
- Screen Time Parental Control
However you decide to tackle the issue of screen time for kids, leading by example is key. Check out the tools and resources at your disposal, and decide as a family how you will reduce screen time in your household.
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