Do you find yourself fighting with your child over how much time they spend glued to the TV, tablet or cell phone? If the answer is “yes”, don’t feel alone; many parents all over the world fight the same fight every day.
Is it worth fighting with your child over this? The immediate answer to this is YES!
Research shows that children spend more time on activities using electronics than they do on any other activity. This averages out to about 7 hours per day (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP*).
Something to remember is that screen time is not a new problem. Even when you and your parents were growing up, there was an element of TV or video games, and eventually, computers, to contend with. Even then, parents spent many hours moaning about the amount of time their children spent glued to a screen. The difference now is that we are dealing with screens that are a lot more portable than ever before; we have to deal with them at home, in the car, at the table, in a restaurant, basically wherever we are we could be fighting with our children about getting away from screens.
Whether it is a TV, computer or tablet, we often find ourselves and our children spending too much time with a light shining in our faces. This can have quite a few adverse effects, including:
- Sleep problems – Quite a few parents seem to think that winding down by watching TV is a good idea, but this is one of the worst ways to relax. It keeps your brain working and the blue light emitted from the screen interferes with your sleep cycle.
- Obesity – Too much time spent on activities sitting or lying down instead of engaging in outside activities will negatively affect weight.
- Behavioural problems – Preschool and school-aged children who watch TV or play games are more likely to have emotional, social and attention issues.
- Violence – Too much exposure to violent TV, games, moves, or music can cause children to become desensitised to violence, and they may resort to this to try to solve their problems.
Benefits of cutting back
Children that have cut back on screen time and spent more time on active pursuits are shown to have achieved better school marks, lowered their body mass index, slept better and generally shown less aggression.
You may not notice these benefits right away, in the same way as you don’t notice how much your child is growing daily, but the benefits will become evident over time.
Some strategies on how to reduce screen time
This will not be an easy transition, but time and consistency will win the war as it does with any habit.
Set time limits – Children under the age of 2 should not be exposed to screens at all; this includes TVs and tablets. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should be exposed for no more than 1-2 hours maximum and for children over 5 years, the recommendation is to include 15 minutes on outside, or alternate, activity for every hour spent in front of a screen. Overall, they should spend no more than 2-3 hours per day in front of a screen.
No screens in bedrooms – Do not allow TV’s in bedrooms or devices to be charged in a bedroom. Have a central charging spot in the house where devices can be left overnight.
Turn it off – if a child or a parent is not watching something specific on the TV, turn it off. This will avoid the habit of always having something going on in the background. Don’t have the TV going while doing homework or during meal times either; use this time to connect without electronics.
Plan family time – whether it is board games or a fun activity out, make an effort to plan time to spend together.
Very importantly, YOU need to model good screen behaviour. It is pointless trying to get your child to limit their screen time if you spend every spare minute on your own phone or TV.
Model the behaviour you want!
- * American Academy of Pediatrics. Media and children communication toolkit.
by Kerry MacArthur