I was born in the ’80s and while that still meant growing up with a lot of television and video games, the amount of screen time I had was no where near as high as a lot of today’s kids.
In addition to TV and video games, there’s phones, laptops and I’m always surprised when I see kids with tablets! I got my first iPad at the age of 28!
I find it hard enough being parted from Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and more – so how much harder it must be to convince a child or teenager to step away from their various devices and screens.
Is there a time limit you should be putting on your kids each day and how do you get them to step away without a melt down over the dinner table?
How many hours of screen time is acceptable?
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) recognises that children are now growing up immersed in digital media and that this has both positive and negative effects on healthy development.
However, the only specific quote given by the AAP is up to “1 hour per day of high-quality programs for children ages 2-5. After that, is simply states that parents should put consistent time limits in place.
But what does that mean? How many hours a day? Should screen time be broken up into chunks? Is a weekend movie marathon OK? What about when screen time is a necessity for school work or becoming tech savy?
Dr Aric Sigman states that “while all types of screen time should be limited, limiting screen time for non educational or development purposes is where our focus should be.” Let’s be honest, we’ve all relied on television to distract and entertain kids when we’ve needed to get things done, but this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.
Dr Sigman recommends establishing family rules to keep screen time in check and to reduce the risk of health and psychological problems later on. Unfortunately, there isn’t clear and consistent advice but we can look to government advice to help up establish our own rules.
In 2013 the US Department of Health recommended that children under 2 should not be in front of a screen at all. It was recomended that children over 2 should spend no more than 2 hours in front of a screen for leisure purposes. The advice from the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is similar.
There is also advice that suggests parents should not just focus on only limiting screen time but also be a “media mentor”. This means helping children to understand what they’re seeing as well as teaching them to use technology as a tool to create, connect and learn.
Factor in breaks
For under 10s, Dr Larry Rosen suggests limiting screen time to 40 minute segments then insisting on an hour’s break. As children get older, this can be extended to an hour of screen time and an hour off.
To avoid arguments, always set expectations then give 5 minute warnings before making children take a break. Stick to consistent punishments such as removing screen time if your kids don’t switch off but Dr Rosen doesn’t recommend rewards for good screen behaviour as it goes against the general message of moderation.
Don’t forget – you need to set an example
Full disclosure – I always have my phone on me and I check it multiple times an hour. Unnecessary and a bad habit – I know but it’s something a lot of us have in common. But it’s even more harmful when we act this way in front of children. Being distracted by technology means we’re not fully present. Even if we think a sneaky check of our messages or a scroll through Instagram get’s picked up by kids. If you don’t follow the rules, you can’t expect kids to respect and value them either.
Switch off before bed
Here’s a hard rule we can all live by. Avoid screen time for at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt the sleep of children AND adults by stimulating the brain.
Replace screen time with something else
It’s no good just telling a child to switch off a screen. Give them options otherwise they’ll only see the downsides and not the benefits of taking time away from screens. Get outdoors, do some baking, get creative, play a board game… That way you can avoid arguments and the familiar cry “but I’m bored!”
Setting family rules like no phones at the dinner table gives you the opportunity to connect with your children. It’s a time where the family can focus on each knowing every member is mentally present and listening. Being asked about your day by someone who has one eye on their phone does not feel good – and whether we realise it or not, ends up in disconnection.