Conversion pixel

The Screen Time Dilemma: Impact and Management for Kids

written by Dr. Jennie Gary

comments 0 comments

I’m Doctor Jennie, and welcome to another edition of Kid’s Corner.

There’s a mental health topic parents ask about today that wasn’t an issue ten years ago.

Can you guess what it is? That’s right. It’s screen time.

While technology has offered many advances, it has also created new challenges for parents and caregivers. Many families enjoy watching a favorite show or playing a video game together, and this can be a good bonding time. And both parents and teams like texting or using social media and other apps. There can certainly be many social benefits to screens.

However, too much time in front of a screen can actually have negative impacts on children’s health and development. And this is regardless of whether it’s a television, computer, tablet, smartphone, or video game.

For very young children, increased screen time has been shown to be associated with speech delays. And for older children, it can affect reading, doing school work, and socializing with family and friends. It has also been linked with behavioral issues like increased aggression or inattention.

For all ages, too much screen time can disrupt good sleep. And the more screen time that kids have, the more likely they are to eat unhealthy foods or overeat.

Children see and are influenced by thousands of ads each year. And many are for sugary cereals, snacks, and soda.

It also cuts down on time for physical activity such as sports or other active play.

Prolonged screen time can even have effects on vision and excessive headphone use can be damaging to your child’s hearing as well. At its worst, too much screen time can even impact children’s mood and self-esteem.

Excessive screen time has been linked with aggression and behavioral problems. Aggressive behavior is especially linked to poor quality content, shows or videos that display physical violence or unkind language.

Maybe you’ve already been thinking about limiting screen time but you’re not sure how to begin.

You also may not feel sure that your family is ready for this change. I get it. Cutting out the screens can be hard, and now may not be the best time for your family. That’s okay. You can wait until you’re ready.

If you’re not ready to limit the screen time yet, at least try to monitor the ratings for movies and the type of content your child is watching or interacting with. When possible, look for age-based restrictions or children’s profiles on your child’s apps, tablet, or TV. Give your child choices of programs to watch that are more educational, interactive, and age-appropriate.

If you are ready to start thinking about changing your child’s screen time, that’s great. Let’s go ahead and discuss some helpful ways to start.

First of all, know that cutting back on screen time does not mean no screens at all. It means being mindful about what your child is watching and how much time your child spends looking at a screen.

I know that making this kind of change can be hard and it takes time. But you do not have to make this change all at once. Even cutting back on some screen time can be helpful. As a general rule of thumb, as pediatricians, We recommend no more than two hours per day of screen time.

Remember, this includes all screens like phone, TV, tablet, and video games. And these two hours do not include school work that’s done with the computer. You can start by making one or two changes and see how it works. For example, for one week, cut back by just thirty minutes a day the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen.

Or try co-viewing for some of your children’s screen time to help engage in conversation and enhance their mental stimulation and learning.

Remember that you can control how fast you make any changes. Making small gradual changes to how you and your family spend time using devices will help you maintain those changes.

As an example, I once had a parent bring in their child for a visit, concerned that their speech was significantly behind.

This two year old child was only saying a couple words. When I asked the parent more, I found out that the child was watching over eight hours of screen time a day. So I had that parent cut their screen time back to less than two hours a day. The very same patient came back three months later and they were saying close to fifty words in just a matter of three months. So you can see how important this truly is.

You can help your child spend less time on media devices by using some of the following suggestions, or you might have other ideas about how to do this for your child and your family. As you do start making plans, think of possible problems ahead that will make it difficult to succeed.

Having options for these problems will improve your chances for success.

What can you do to help your child? First, have a discussion about screen time as a family.

Talk to your child about the new changes in screen time or limits that you’re going to place and discuss the reasons why you want to reduce their screen time.

Next, come up with a substitute plan for alternative activities they can do, like going outside to play, listening to music, reading, drawing, writing, homework, cleaning, playing board games, helping with cooking, talking to friends or family, the list goes on and on.

Once you do have a plan in place, try some of these physical blocks to help stick to your plan for less screen time.

Move the screens out of reach to help ensure that your plan will be successful.

Take the TV computer, tablet, smartphone, video games, and move them out of your child’s bedroom.

Keep the dining table a screen-free zone, and that applies for adults too.

Use phone timers for apps to help shut them off when the limit is used, or you can even try an alarm clock for screen time.

Set specific times for when screen time is allowed. For example, screen time should always come after homework time.

You can try setting up a bin or a basket in a public room where devices can be charged overnight.

Keeping devices out of the bedrooms and having a screen-free time for at least one hour before bedtime will help improve your child’s sleep too.

If possible, delay getting your child a cell phone until middle or high school. If you do give them a cell phone at a younger age, try to avoid using smartphones and social media.

Hopefully, some of these changes will even help you reduce your own screen time. Remember that we are our children’s greatest role models, so try to be mindful of how often you’re checking your phone.

One possible, try to set your own screen-free times where your cell phone is put away and you’re focused on connecting directly with your child without interruptions.

We are learning more and more about this topic every day. So look for more videos from me on screen time in the near future. I’m Doctor Jennie. See you on the next Kid’s Corner.

Leave a Reply