Today’s generation of children is exposed to more media than any that came before them. Through television, computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming devices and more, children in this day and age have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips. And, although some time spent with these devices can offer educational benefits, too much screen time can have long-term adverse consequences.
The Risks of Too Much Screen Time
Extended time in front of a screen can lead to:
- Obesity. Time spent in front of a screen is time that is not spent being physically active. In addition, children tend to eat more in front of a screen, especially when they watch television. Unhealthy eating habits can be also be picked up through television ads for food that is not nutritious.
- Irregular sleep. Extended time in front of a screen can overstimulate the brain and lead to sleep loss and subsequent fatigue.
- Behavioral problems. Time in front of the screen takes away from the time spent interacting with family and friends. This can lead to social, emotional, and attention problems.
- Impaired academic performance. Most of the time spent in front of a screen is passive in nature. Since children learn through active play, too much screen time deprives them of the exercise and mental stimulation they need to develop. In addition, more time in front of a screen offers less time for doing homework and reading.
- Violence. Because social and problem solving skills are best developed away from screens, spending too much time in front of them can hinder development in these areas. This, coupled with exposure to violent screen content, can lead to increased aggression and threatening behavior.
How Much is Too Much?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting a child’s screen time to no more than one to two hours a day. Unfortunately, many children spend much more time than this in front of a screen each day. If your child falls into this majority, efforts to reduce screen time may seem like a daunting challenge, especially if excessive screen time has become ingrained into your child’s routine. However, the effort you make now will be of great benefit to his or her physical and mental health in the long run.
How to Decrease Screen Time
Here are 5 ways help cut down your child’s screen time:
1. Create a Family Media Use Plan.
This plan should take into consideration the quality, quantity and location of media use for family members. In addition, look for ways to make screen time as engaging as possible.
2. Keep Televisions and Computers out of the Bedrooms.
Screen time can be better monitored when screens are located in common areas of the house.
3. Encourage Active Play.
Suggest alternative activities, such as a bike ride, a trip to the library for a book, a board game, or any other activity that offers alternatives that encourage social interaction and foster creativity.
4. Be a Role Model
Practice what you preach by setting the example and limiting your own screen time.
5. Unplug It.
If excessive screen time continues to be an issue, turn off the devices for a while. You may even want to designate a time (e.g. one day a week or month) to go “screen free” to encourage the practice of alternative activities.