Much research is being conducted to determine the effects of screen time on developing brains and bodies, and preliminary evidence indicates there are certainly detrimental consequences to excessive digital engagement. Too much or poor quality screen time has been linked to:
Higher risk of obesity
Irregular sleep schedules and shorter duration of sleep
Increased behavioural problems
Loss of social skills
Tendency towards violence or aggressive behaviours
Less time for play
Screen time guidelines
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a set of guidelines in October 2016, which allows for some screen time for children younger than 2 years old and, importantly, emphasizes parental involvement for all kids. In summary, the AAP advises the following:
Avoid the use of screen media (other than video-chatting) for children younger than 18 months.
Limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs for children age 2 to 5 years.
Create a family media schedule with consistent rules and enforce them for older kids.
Top tips for managing screen time at home
Set the Example: Not something you may want to hear, but kids do model their behaviour on what they see around them. If you want to reduce their screen time, you’ll need to reflect on your own relationship with devices. Monkey See, Monkey Do!
Be the Parent: Be ok with being the unpopular parent with your kids when you begin to change the parameters of their screen time. You’re the parent; you set the rules. Having said that, make sure your kids understand (as best they can for their age) why the rules are put in place.
Set a Schedule: An effective way of facilitating better screen time habits is to set specific times for digital media and explain this to your kids upfront. For example, 15 minutes in the morning before school and 45 minutes while dinner is being prepared. Some parents have found a ‘token’ system works well: one token = 15 minutes and four tokens are allocated per day. The child can ‘cash them in’ when they want screen time, or even bank them for later. This provides a sense of control and independence which can be very effective.
Encourage other activities: Make suggestions for other activities and provide the resources to facilitate this. Giving your kid other attractive options and opportunities will make the limitation of screen time much easier.
Be involved/play with your kids: Yes, screens are often the new digital nannies, but whenever you can, get down and dirty and play with your kids! Especially if they’re young enough to still enjoy this! If you have older kids, be involved in their lives and interests as much as possible – maintaining the familial and emotional bond.
Observe your kid’s behaviour: Kids may display changes in behaviour or temperament that is unusual – take note of this as it may be related to digital media they are consuming.
No TVs in bedrooms: That’s right. No TVs. In your kid’s or your own bedrooms. This is one of the best ways to contribute to more appropriate screen time for the whole family.
Value good, old fashioned family time: Family meals and car rides. Rather than allowing everyone to have their noses in a device, value and protect these times of togetherness. Share stories from your days, learn new things, enjoy each other’s company. These are special moments!
We live in a high-tech, digital world, and devices are an integral part of our lives, whether we like it or not. It is not viable to remove all digital media from your children’s lives, but it is absolutely possible to manage their relationship with it. Providing a good model and healthy boundaries early on will enable your child to benefit greatly from the advantages of this digital age, but not be consumed by the negative effects that can be disruptive and damaging.