What is screen time, and how long should kids be on screens per day?
First, let's get a definition of screen time. Screen time is any type of interaction with digital technologies- whether that be watching TV or movies on your phone, tablet, computer, or television; playing video games on a device or console; video chatting and checking social media sites like Instagram and Facebook for example.
What does medical science say about young kids' screen usage? We know from studies in children ages 0-18 years old that there are links between high amounts of screen time and adverse health effects such as obesity (and related conditions), poor eating habits/choices, lack of physical activity leading to decreased fitness levels, higher risk for sleep disorders, increased rates of depression and anxiety, etc.
Why it's important to set limits for kids
Your kids stand to gain a lot if their screen time is limited. Below we discuss a few of the benefits kids gain when they spend less time on screens:
- Lower risk for obesity and related conditions (higher fitness levels, better diet) due to increased physical activity.
- Increased sleep quality which helps with mood, concentration, behavior during the day.
- Less exposure to negative content on media such as commercials advertising unhealthful food or video games promoting violence or addiction.
- Better family bonding- more face-to-face interactions between parents/kids without devices interrupting them!
- Improved mental health through less stress from social comparisons that happen when children see others' perfect picture posts online.
- Staring at screens all day can cause a lack of empathy due to not being able to read facial expressions properly in online interactions versus real-life ones where they can actually hear a tone of voice.
- Fewer distractions.
How much is too much screen time?
There is no magic number of minutes or hours for screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents choose a specific amount of daily screen time and set limits on it- whether this be one hour per day, two half-hour sessions per day, etc.
You should also consider what kinds of activities their kids are doing when they use screens: Are they playing educational games? Browsing the internet for academic purposes (researching topics)? Watching shows with age-appropriate content only?
If so, then maybe your child can spend more than two hours in front of a screen each day! When children's digital media usage becomes excessive and interferes with things like sleep quality/quantity, exercise frequency; social interactions; family life; schoolwork, then it is time to step in and set stricter limits.
It is important to remember that screen time should not be the only activity children engage in throughout their day- they still need plenty of time for physical activity, creative playtime, and face-to-face socializing!
How can I manage my kids' screen usage?
There are several ways you can limit your child's screen time, including:
- Limiting the amount of technology used in your house (this includes limiting TV and game console use).
- Setting a specific schedule for when screens may be used is helpful too! For example, using tablets/phones only on school days after homework has been completed; no devices during dinner or before bedtime, etc.
- You could also try enforcing phone-free zones like at mealtimes with family members, mealtimes with friends, etc.) This is not always easy, but it does help children create more meaningful social connections instead of spending the entire day "plugged in" to their screens.
- A technique called "media fasts" can help children become more aware of what they are engaging with on the screen - turning off all devices for a set period (e.g., 24 hours) and seeing how this feels, which is beneficial in terms of increasing social skills!
- There are also some apps that parents or educators can download onto kids' phones/tablets etc., that limit certain types of screen usage like social media use during school nights & weekends, internet access after homework is completed, etc.) You should always monitor these programs, though, because there have been cases where many features were restricted but not social networking ones- so just make sure you're taking an active role in your child's screen time management!
How to enforce screen time rules with children?
If you've set rules about screen time and your young child is not following them, there are a few things you can do to try and enforce them.
First of all, it's crucial that you be consistent with the rules- if one-day screens are allowed for four hours but then the next they're only allowed for two, this will only confuse and frustrate your child. Try to stick to specific limits you've set, so your child knows what to expect.
Another thing you can do is have "screen-free" days or periods during the week where no devices are allowed (except for emergencies). This could be on weekends, school nights, etc. It's also helpful if mealtimes are technology-free zones- this gives children younger than the age of ten the opportunity to talk and engage with family members in person.
If your child is breaking rules that have been set, it's crucial to discuss why these rules were put into place and what negative consequences could happen if they continue not to follow them. This doesn't mean punishment necessarily needs to occur (e.g., taking away screens/technology), but rather setting logical limits and explaining why these are necessary.
It's also helpful for you to try some of the techniques mentioned earlier, like media fasts or screen-free zones, so their kids can experience for themselves how it feels to be without screens for some time. Hopefully, through doing this, kids will learn that there can be negative consequences and consequences to not following the rules and that there are alternatives (e.g., socializing face-to-face, reading a book).
- Limit screen time usage.
- Set specific limits for when screens can be used.
- Enforce these limits with your children.
- Try media fasts or no device zones, so kids get an idea of how it feels to use less technology.
What age is appropriate to introduce screens?
There is no definitive answer to this question as it will vary from child to child and family to family. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does recommend that parents delay screen time for children until they are at least 18 months old.
After 18 months, AAP recommends that screen time be limited to one hour per day- and this should only include high-quality content approved by parents. It's important to remember that screens are not recommended for babies and toddlers as they can interfere with important aspects of development like language skills, socialization, etc.
So although there is no right or wrong answer, it's generally advisable to wait a while before you introduce digital media into your child's life. And when you do, make sure you set boundaries like those mentioned in this post.
Screen time can be a helpful tool for children, but it's important to use it in moderation. Excessive screen time can negatively affect things like physical health, socialization, and academic performance.
It is important for you to be proactive about your child's screen time and set limits when necessary. There are many ways to manage screen usage- but the most important thing is making sure both you and your child are on the same page!