Excessive screen time is associated with various risks, including increased overweight and obesity rates, lower reading scores, and attention-related issues in school. However, it’s crucial to define what constitutes “screen time” and establish appropriate limits. Here’s what you need to know:
What is Screen Time?
Screen time encompasses various activities, such as watching TV, playing video games, using computers, and engaging with mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. “Recreational screen time” specifically refers to using these devices for non-educational purposes.
Setting Screen Time Limits
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides valuable guidelines to help parents manage their children’s screen time effectively:
- Children aged 2 to 5 years: Limit screen time to one hour per day.
- Kids aged 6 and older: Parents can determine appropriate screen time restrictions while also monitoring the types of digital media their children engage with.
Protecting Vulnerable Infants
It’s important to recognize that infants are especially vulnerable to the effects of screens. During the first two years of life, critical brain development occurs. Exposure to TV and electronic media can hinder exploration, play, and interaction with parents and others, potentially disrupting learning and healthy physical and social development. As a result, the AAP strongly advises against exposing infants aged 18 months and younger to any form of digital media.
Impact of Excessive Screen Time on Kids
Before you switch on the TV, computer, or any electronic device for your child, it’s crucial to understand how excessive screen time can affect them. Consider these essential facts:
- Habit-Forming Behavior: Excessive screen time can become a habit for children. The more they engage with screens, the more challenging it becomes to limit their electronic usage as they grow older.
- Influence of Advertisements: Over half of the advertisements that accompany children’s TV shows focus on food products. Alarmingly, up to 98% of these ads promote foods that are high in fat, sugar, and sodium, potentially influencing unhealthy eating habits.
- Critical Early Years: The early years of a child’s life are pivotal for development. Limiting exposure to television during the first four years may decrease a child’s long-term interest in screen-based activities.
- Effects on Sleep and Language: Excessive screen time has been linked to irregular sleep patterns and delayed language acquisition, particularly for children under the age of 3. Additionally, it can contribute to increased early childhood aggression.
- Academic and Health Benefits: Children who spend less time watching television during their early years tend to perform better in school. They also develop healthier dietary habits and engage in more physical activity.
- Preventing Childhood Obesity: Reducing screen time can play a significant role in preventing childhood obesity. This, in turn, significantly reduces the risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure at young ages.
Encouraging Healthy Viewing Habits
To foster healthy viewing habits in your children, consider the following strategies:
- Be a Role Model: Lead by example and avoid excessive TV or computer usage yourself. Demonstrate the importance of balance by turning off the TV, putting down your smartphone, and engaging in fun activities with your children.
- Keep Electronics Out of Bedrooms: Prevent temptation by keeping TVs, DVD players, video games, computers, and tablets out of your child’s bedroom. This reduces the likelihood of late-night screen use.
- Earn Screen Time: Treat screen time as a privilege that must be earned. Establish clear family viewing rules, such as allowing screen time only after chores and homework are completed.
- Create Lists of Screen-Free Activities: Compile lists of enjoyable activities that don’t involve screens. Have separate lists for individual and family/group activities. Display these lists on a bulletin board or the fridge for easy access, and encourage your children to contribute ideas.
- Designate Screen-Free Times or Days: Implement designated screen-free periods, such as “No TV on School Nights” or “No TV Tuesday.” Setting these boundaries helps balance screen time with other activities.
- Positive Communication: Approach changes in viewing habits positively. Instead of simply instructing, “Turn off the TV,” offer appealing alternatives. For example, suggest, “Let’s take a walk to the park instead of watching TV right now.” Provide fun options rather than just saying “no.”
- Family Viewing: When the TV is on, make it a family activity. Sit down and watch with your kids, engaging in discussions about the shows they enjoy. Schedule shows that the whole family can watch and appreciate together.
- Provide Alternatives: Keep a variety of alternatives readily available. Ensure access to books, magazines, puzzles, and board games. Encourage physical play opportunities, promoting a healthy balance between screen time and other activities.