Reduce Screen Time to Improve Children’s Health and Development

Excessive screen time is associated with increased risk for overweight and obesity, lower reading scores, and attention problems in school. But what constitutes “screen time” and what is excessive?

What is “screen time”?

Screen time includes time spent watching TV, playing video games, using a computer, and using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. “Recreational screen time” refers to use for non-educational purposes.

How much screen time is too much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) identifies screen time as time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes. Other uses of media, such as online homework, don’t count as screen time. The academy recommends that:-

  • For children 2 to 5 years of age, screen time should be limited to one hour per day.
  • For kids ages 6 and older, parents can determine the restrictions for time spent using screen, as well as monitor the types of digital media their children use.
  • Babies are most vulnerable to screens. The first two years of life are a critical time for brain development. TV and other electronic media can get in the way of exploring, playing, and interacting with parents and others, interrupting learning and healthy physical and social development. Infants aged 18 months and younger should not be exposed to any digital media, the academy says.

How excessive screen time impacts kids?

Before you turn on the TV, computer, or other electronic device for your child, consider these facts:

  • Screen time is habit-forming. The more time children engage with screens, the harder time they have turning electronics off as they become older children.
  • Over 50% of advertisements accompanying children’s TV shows are about foods. Up to 98% of these promote foods that are high in fat, sugar, and/or sodium.
  • The early years are critical. Limiting exposure to television during the first 4 years of life may decrease children’s interest in it in later.
  • Excessive screen time has been linked to irregular sleep and delayed language acquisition for children under the age of 3, as well as increased early childhood aggression.
  • Children who spend less time watching television in their early years tend to do better in school. They also have a healthier diet and are more physically active.
  • Reducing screen time can help prevent childhood obesity. This in turn means significantly reduced risk for diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure at young ages.

How can you encourage healthy viewing habits?

  • Don’t use the TV or computer excessively yourself. Let your kids see you turn off the TV, put down your smart phone, and turn to them for a fun activity.
  • Keep TVs, DVD players, video games, computers, and tablets out of your child’s bedroom. It’s too tempting.
  • Treat screen time as a privilege to be earned. Establish and enforce family viewing rules, such as screen time is allowed only after chores and homework are completed.
  • Make a list of fun activities that don’t involve screens. You can have a list for individual activities and another for family/group activities. Tack it to a bulletin board or stick it on the fridge where you can see it easily and add ideas when you think of them.
  • Make certain days or times screen-free. For example, no TV or video games on school nights, or “No TV Tuesday.”
  • Talk about changes in viewing habits in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Turn off the TV,” try, “Instead of watching TV right now, let’s walk to the park.” Offer fun options instead of just saying no.
  • When the TV is on, sit down and watch with your kids. Talk to them about the shows they like. Schedule shows to watch that the whole family will enjoy together.
  • Make alternatives available. Keep books, magazines, puzzles, and board games—as well as opportunities for physical play—easily accessible to children.