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On Your Health

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Managing Your Child’s Screen Time

Screens are here to stay, and with more screens in more places, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage screen time for kids. 

But, how much is too much? What if it’s educational? How does screen time management change as kids get older? Below, we’ve addressed your biggest screen time concerns for kids of all ages.

How screen time affects health

Screens are everywhere these days. Between smartphones, TVs, iPads, computers and games, screen time is almost unavoidable for kids. It can even be difficult for most adults to manage a healthy amount of screen time. 

So, why is it so important to limit screen time for children? Too much passive screen time can have negative effects on your kids’ physical and mental health, including the following: 

  • Obesity
  • Irregular sleep schedules
  • Behavioral problems 
  • Lacking social skills
  • Violence
  • Less active play time
  • Less time with family and friends
  • Mood problems
  • Poor self-image

Kids can also be exposed to inappropriate content for their age, such as violence, sexually explicit imagery, substance use, cyberbullies and misleading information.

Not only does screen time impact your child as they develop, it also develops screen time habits they will carry with them into adulthood. So, it’s important to help them develop strategies to balance screen time with other healthy downtime activities.

 

Recommended screen time

For children younger than age two, learning from a live presentation is much more effective than a video. Children ages two and older can benefit from some educational screen time, such as music, movement and stories. However, passive screen time should never replace reading, playing or problem-solving activities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides the following guidelines for managing children’s screen time as they age.

Ages two or younger

For kids under the age of two, discourage all media use unless they are video chatting with you or a relative.  Avoid all solo media use with kids in this age group, as they learn best from live, in-person human interaction.

Ages two to five

For kids ages two and older, some educational screen time can be beneficial. It’s important to limit screen time to one hour on weekdays and no more than three hours on weekend days. Choose high-quality, educational programming when possible.

Ages five and older

For kids ages five and older, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to screen time. It’s most important to encourage healthy habits and limit screen time activities. Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to the media your kids consume. It can also be helpful to set boundaries for the whole family, such as no screens during family meals and no screens for 30-60 minutes before bed.

 

Parenting tips for reducing screen time

Because kids have so much access to technology, it can be difficult for parents to control what and how much they consume, especially when your kids are at school or with friends. However, there are several things you can do to help limit screen time, encourage healthy habits and keep tabs on your kids’ programming. 

  • Be involved in their screen time. Participate in their favorite games, movies, shows or music. Know what media they’re consuming and take an active role in their screen time. 
  • Preview programs, games and apps. There are many resources available to help parents choose age-appropriate media, but the best way to know what your kids are watching is to watch it first. 
  • Choose interactive options over passive. Passive screen time has fewer benefits, so choose interactive programs, like learning games, when possible.
  • Use parental controls to filter internet content. The internet is full of content your kids shouldn’t have access to. Parental controls allow them to use the internet independently without risking exposure to inappropriate or explicit content. 
  • Supervise online activities. Even parental controls aren’t fool-proof, so it’s important to supervise your kids during screen time. Be aware of what they’re watching, and encourage them to enjoy screen time in common areas of your home.
  • Discuss programs to help them develop critical thinking about media. Point out positive examples and lessons, and open a dialogue about the storylines, characters and messaging they consume.
  • Set an example by limiting your own screen time. Kids see how we interact with our devices. Follow your own rules and set a good example of having healthy boundaries with technology. 
  • Teach children about online privacy. It’s important for kids to understand the safety risks of the internet. Make sure they know what is and isn’t safe to share online. It’s also important for you to respect their privacy by asking their permission to share photos, avoiding oversharing their personal information and considering that their online presence will follow them into adulthood.

 

How to set screen time limits

It’s important to have clear and consistent screen time limits for the whole family. Start as young as possible so that your kids develop clear boundaries from screen time as they get older. Consistency is key to help them establish a healthy routine.

If your kids are old enough to have a conversation with you, ask them how much time they feel they should spend on their devices each day. Present healthy options for other activities they can do alone or as a family to replace screen time. Allowing them to participate in setting limits can help your kids respect those limits down the line. 

Enforce daily or weekly screen time limits and set a screen time curfew to ensure that your kids turn off their screens 30-60 minutes before bed. Discourage all media entertainment during homework time or in bedrooms, and eliminate all background TV. 

 

If you are concerned about your child’s screen time, talk to your pediatrician. They may refer you to a mental health professional to help establish healthy boundaries. For more healthy living tips for the whole family, read our On Your Health blog

 

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