Parenting books have been preaching to keep your child away from television for decades, citing an increase in violent tendencies or a decrease in the ability to learn. Nowadays, there has been an explosion of new technology—and new screens—that have begun to dominate our children’s free time. There have been many studies in response to this cultural change and the response is nearly unanimous: we need to start limiting our children’s screen time.
Why Limiting Screen Time is Important
While these reasons may be common knowledge, let’s quickly review some of the negative side effects of too much screen time:
Children Are More Likely to be Obese
The most obvious cause of this correlation is that sitting and watching a screen is time spent without physical activity. However, other causes are linked to how susceptible children are to advertising on television or computers. Advertising encourages unhealthy eating, and many children eat while watching a screen. It’s always less likely that your child will want carrot sticks over potato chips, but this will be more reinforced by the ads they watch.
Children Have More Difficulty Falling Asleep at Night
Does your kid have insomnia? More than likely this means less sleep for the whole family. There are several theories that touch on why television is so addictive and distracting to our sleep cycles, but the two most consistent reasons are:
- A screen’s light stimulates us the same way the sun does, keeping us awake
- We physically tense while watching an exciting movie or playing a video game, making it difficult to relax
The Chance of a Child Developing Cognitive Problems Increases
Because screens often impact children on a visual, emotional, and social level, it can lead to cognitive problems down the road, such as:
- Attention problems
Infants & Toddlers Are Less Likely to Develop Physically, Socially and Cognitively
In order to develop properly, infants need to be in contact with the world around them. Watching a screen will inhibit their learning process.
How Much is Too Much?
As screens become more a part of our everyday life, it may be hard to believe that pediatricians strongly recommend:
- Children under 2 years should have no screen time at all to encourage proper development
- Everyone older than 2 years should limit their screen time to two hours a day (adults too!)
These limits—especially the second one—may sound absurd, probably because the average American uses screens 7-9 hours a day (children 5-7). Many of us cannot avoid screens because our jobs are built around them. Therefore, the important thing is to limit screens wherever and whenever possible. It won’t be easy, especially if screens are part of yours and your child’s everyday routine, but it will be worth it!
Ways to Limit Screen Time
The first steps to cutting down the hours your family spends with screens are to form your house rules with this goal in mind.
Get Rid of Screens in Your Child’s Bedroom
As I mentioned earlier, screens can disrupt people’s sleep cycles due to their constant visual, auditory, and cognitive stimuli. Therefore, the bedroom should be a screen-free zone. If your child needs to unwind during their bedtime routine, suggest a book for story time rather than a television show.
Don’t Use Screens While Eating
This rule can apply to both meal times and snacking. People tend to eat more when distracted by television or other screens, which is one of the reasons television watching is linked to obesity. In addition, eliminating screens during mealtime can be a time to bond with family members.
Change or Eliminate Your Background Noise
Many people leave the television on while they do other tasks, which can lead to increased time sitting and watching screens. Instead, try using screen-less background noise, such as a radio, podcast, or music. Some may even opt for getting rid of background noise altogether.
Keep Your Imagination Open for Other Activities
Have a dance competition. Put a sheet over the kitchen table and work on a coloring book underneath. Bake cookies for a relative. Do a puzzle. Go for a walk. There are plenty of non-screen opportunities for fun in the average home.
Don’t Let Your Kids Come Inside Before Dark
Your kid doesn’t have to be a college graduate to throw them out of the house (at least for a little while). Even though it can be scary to let your child play unsupervised, this often gives kids the chance to explore on their own. Whether it’s making mud pies or snowmen, let your kids take risks away from screens.
Ways to Improve Screen Time
Sometimes, cutting down your kids’ screen time to 2 hours per day is just too much. Don’t worry; there are still plenty of things you can do to make the time you spend with screens worthwhile.
Try Active Screen Time
You don’t have to stay seated while watching TV. Encourage your child to stretch or do yoga while watching a program or have a competition to see who can do more jumping jacks over a commercial break. Choose video games that include physical activity.
Choose Which Shows to Watch Ahead of Time
By planning your use of screen time, you can schedule how much you will watch and when. Once your program is over, turn off the device to discourage spending more time in front of a screen.
Keep Track of How Much Screen Time Your Spending
Not only can this be enlightening, but it can also help you set better goals. For instance, try to spend as much time watching television as you do being active.
Remember: Actions Speak Louder than Words
The best way to teach your kids to limit their screen time is to be a good role model. If you follow these guidelines (and don’t talk to your child from behind your iPhone) it’s more likely that your child will respect your rules about limiting screen time. The change will benefit everyone.