Electronic influences are everywhere.
Tablets; toys; smartphones; smart televisions; video games; YouTube channels about video games (and “unboxings”, and Minecraft walk-throughs, and someone else’s family going to Disneyworld); and apps of every conceivable variety.
Screen time for children is at an all-time high.
According to UNICEF, children under the age of 18 represent 1 in 3 Internet users. Not only that, but experts say children ages 8 and younger spend an average of 2 ¼ hours glued to screens each day, with 48 minutes of that time on mobile devices (that’s a substantial leap from 8 minutes back in 2013).
The technology making it all possible is the epitome of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it offers expanded opportunities for education, research, and the pursuit of career opportunities.
On the other, it could pose some considerable health and safety risks. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, extended screen time for children can potentially lead to:
- Sleep problems
- Poor school performance
- Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and attention disorders
The AAP recommends that children between 18-24 months should have access only to high-quality programming, and then only in the presence of their parents or guardians, while children 2-5 should be limited to 1 hour of screen time per day.
The organization concedes the world in which we live has become reliant on such devices, and recommends parents devise personalized media use plans tailored to their own children’s health and development. Such plans, they say, should be balanced with an adolescent’s need for ample sleep and exercise.
Not everyone agrees, whole cloth, however, with the AAP’s viewpoints. A study of 20,000 families conducted by Child Development, for example, found that the rules established regarding screen time for children were more critical than the hours themselves. And UNICEF suggests the key is focusing on what your children are doing online, not necessarily how long they are doing it.
The most clear and present danger surrounding screen time for children, it seems, is that mobile devices are rapidly overtaking a child’s natural predilection for playing outdoors, falling in love with books, expressing one’s self artistically, and harnessing one’s own imagination.
Are you at your wit’s end with screen addiction in your home? The following suggestions can help you redirect your children – and your family at large – to the bigger picture:
- Monitor your child’s media use. Know what they are watching and who they are communicating with.
- Be consistent. Place limits on media usage and stick to them.
- Cut off access one hour before bed. Do not allow your child to take devices to bed.
- Reinforce education. Outlaw screens during homework time.
- Establish screen-free rooms in your home.
- Engage In media and screen-free times for your family, such as meals, story time, and recreational outings.
- Get others involved. Ask grandparents and other caregivers to follow your home policies. Encourage your school and community to establish healthier habits.
Perhaps most importantly, set a good example.
There are no easy answers regarding screen time for children. Every family is different, and every child has different needs and ways of learning and growing. Moderation, in all things, is a good rule of thumb, however. And being present with your children, and engaged in their activities, is always a good and healthy idea.