Electronic devices are powerful tools. Like any tool, they can be helpful. However, they can also lead to serious problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to help their children learn to use electronics, screens and social media wisely. It’s important for parents to be involved, just like in other areas of your child’s life. April 30- May 6 is National Screen-Free Week and a great time to take a break from the screens and explore other activities.
Risks of Excessive Screen Time
There are a multitude of potential problems with screen time. It can interfere with real-life relationships, disrupt sleep, affect school work, interfere with exercise, contribute to obesity and lead to unhealthy exposures and safety risks.
- Toddler screen time is also associated with problems in later childhood, including lower math and school achievement, reduced physical activity, victimization by classmates, and increased BMI.
- Children with 2 or more hours of daily screen time are more likely to have increased psychological difficulties, including hyperactivity, emotional and conduct problems, as well as difficulties with peers.
Reducing Screen Time
Set limits on time and location of screens
For children under 18 months old, generally avoid use of screens completely and focus on a child’s learning and development from parent/caregiver interaction (reading together, playing, singing, imagining, creating, etc). For children 2-5 years old, limit screen time to 1 hour per day of high quality programs. Ideally, parents should co-view media with their children. For 6 years and older, the Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of recreational screen time per day. Also, screens and electronic devices interfere with restful sleep. Ideally there should be no screens in bedrooms! In addition, sleep is improved if there are no screens used for 1 hour prior to going to bed. All electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops, etc) should be in the parents’ possession at bedtime.
Parents should monitor the content of what their children are watching. Do you want your child copying behaviors they are watching? It’s also important to monitor children’s social media interactions. Be aware of who they are chatting with. Limit communications to people you know in real life. Teach digital etiquette and kindness. Only say things through social media that you would say face-to-face.
Educational vs Recreational Screen Time
Separate educational screen time from recreational screen time i.e. while doing homework, no Facebook, YouTube, TV, etc. Multitasking is a myth. The brain cannot do two things at the same time. It can only quickly switch back and forth. So distractions will interfere with how quickly homework gets done and reduce the quality.
Set an Example
Finally it’s really important for parents to model appropriate media use. Remember, children will copy their parents’ behavior much more than follow their verbal instructions
Celebrate Screen-Free Week
Take the pledge to turn off the screens for a week and spend time playing and creating as a family. Set a calendar of activities and events for the week. Reclaim the family meal as a time for talking together and sharing stories. There are hundreds of fun things to do without a screen.