Screen time for children – How to reduce it?

‘Screen time’ refers to the amount of time a person spends staring at the digital displays of computers, tablets, televisions, and smartphones. Many studies have found that children routinely engage in more than two hours of screen time per day. And it’s very likely most kids spend significantly more time staring at screens than their parents think they do.

 Why is screen time bad for young children?

A developing mind is an important phase of your child’s life. Children, especially under the age of 5, need to move around, explore and interact with the environment around them to develop their motor skills. It is when their brain is the most receptive to learn new skills and build communication pathways which will stay with the child forever. But this isn’t happening as kids these days are glued to their electronic screens and are getting exposed to the negative effects of the digital displays. Let’s go through some effects of too much screen time.

  • Obesity- Engaging in any sedentary activity, such as watching TV or playing video games, is a big risk factor for becoming overweight. Kids who usually spend their time on smartphone or TV screens are less likely to engage in outdoor activities.
  • Sleep problemsThe relationship between screen time and sleep is a complex one. It can negatively impact sleep in many ways. Screen time could be cutting into the time when children should be preparing for bedtime and sleeping. Another factor for disrupting your kid’s sleep can be the blue light that is emitted from the screens. The blue light emitted can reduce the sleep-inducing melatonin, and instead increase awareness.
  • Implementing violence in everyday activitiesEarlier, parents worried about their kids hanging with the ‘wrong crowd’. Now the worry has shifted to whether your child is spending too much time on screen- especially if they are interacting with the wrong media. Exposure to violence in TV shows, movies, music or video games may cause children to become desensitized to it. They may resort to violence to solve problems and may imitate what they see on TV.

But, how much screen time is too much? 

This question troubles every parent and the answer is not a simple one. Children these days are spending a lot of time with the screen. This eventually leads to parents to cut down on screen time. 

Also, the advances in technology in the last decade mean that today’s parents are the first generation of parents who have to figure out ways to limit screen time for their kids.

Recently, in a new set of guidelines, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that we shouldn’t expose infants under the age of one to electronic screens. It further emphasizes that kids between the ages of 2 to 4 shouldn’t be given more than an hour of sedentary screen time every day. It further emphasizes that limiting the screen time for children under the age of 5 will result in healthier adults.

However, the WHO warnings regarding the screen time were disputed by experts from the U.K. They claimed that the guidelines were based on poor evidence and failed to recognize that not all screen time was bad for children.

So, the question arises, yet again, how much screen time is too much for children?

Controlling a child’s screen time can be challenging. There are screens virtually everywhere. To complicate matters, some screen time can be educational for children and can contribute to social development.

7 ways to manage your child’s screen time

  1. Developing screen time Rules: If we don’t want our children spending too much time on screen, we need to lay down some rules. For example, dinner time and bedtime can be a great time for the entire family to have quality time together. So, create a “no screens” rule at least an hour before bedtime.
  2. Using parental controls: One can protect kids from explicit content on TV and smartphones by enabling parental controls. These enable you to monitor what your child is viewing online and on TV. 
  3. Modeling healthy electronic use: If we want our kids to spend less time on their screens, then we need to do the same. This will set a good example for them and more likely make them spend less time on screen.
  4. Educating yourself on the latest technology:  Kids these days are tech-savvy and know more about electronics than most adults too. Thus, one needs to stay up-to-date with the latest apps, mobile games or social media crazes. We can’t warn children of the dangers of social media unless we understand the danger.
  5. Encouraging other activities: To encourage our kids to leave the screens, we need to provide some outlets for them, otherwise, you will constantly hear the phrase “Mom, I am bored !”. Keeping books around or rotating toys every month will keep them occupied and interested. Going for family walks to the park and letting them play in the pool are some ways to keep them busy. Here are a few ideas for some fun summer activities for your kid.
  6. Encouraging physical activities: Children who get addicted to watching youtube videos or playing video games don’t engage much in outdoor activities. Thus, it is crucial that physical activities be a large part of their everyday routine.
  7. Making Screen time a privilege: Screen time should be a privilege and not a right. Taking away privileges such as a computer or TV use, as a negative consequence, will make them adhere to the rules.

Technology is not the bad guy

Family enjoying a match on TV!
Kids with their mom, happily video chatting with Dad!

 

Technology or media is not the bad guy. Ultimately, what kids are doing on the screen is much more important than how much time they spend on screens. Media can be a great teacher for kids. The internet is amazing. And today’s parents are lucky to have access to smart toys, gadgets, and educational tools than ever before. We just need to implement healthy screen time methods to get the benefits of the technology around us.

 

 

 

 

 

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