In our digitalized world, children, young adults and adolescents are growing up in front of a screen, spending almost a third of every day on devices such as smartphones, laptops, tablets and TVs. Unquestionably, this is the media generation.
Many are surfing, swiping and typing away on their smartphones at every available moment, feeding their appetite for social media with a steady diet of tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook messages and Tumblr blog posts.
There are some pluses to all this “screen time.” The Internet, social media and smartphone apps offer many learning and creative opportunities and help develop tech-savvy skills needed to compete for positions in a highly competitive job market. But studies show that all the screen time can also affect kids’ health and their preparedness for school.
A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children are spending an average of seven hours per day on entertainment media. The overall figure seems likely to grow as younger and younger children get smartphones.
How Much Is Too Much?
The question that many parents may ask themselves is: “How much is too much?” When it comes to screen time on computers, televisions and smartphones, the answer hinges on the age of the user and how the technology is being used. In general, the AAP recommends that children under 2 have no screen time. For children over the age of 2, the organization says screen time should be limited to two hours per day.
Imposing these limits can prevent harmful health effects on children. The National Institutes of Health says overuse of technology can lead to attention problems, contribute to sleep and eating disorders, and raise your child’s risk of obesity.
There are several ways you can limit your child’s use of technology. Simply establishing and enforcing rules, such as explicitly stating time limits and content restrictions, can be effective in managing screen time. Content restrictions may be established for television and the Internet by generating parental blocks.
Keep in mind that rules are only as effective as their enforcement. It may be a good idea for you to spend a week monitoring how much time your child is spending using technology to get an idea of how much time your child is truly spending in front of a screen per week. The results may be startling.
Another way to limit screen time is to keep televisions, tablets, computers, etc., out of your child’s room. This prevents ease of access and makes it easier to monitor usage.
Finally, you need to be a good role model. Instead of spending too much time in front of a computer or TV screen or surfing the Web on your smartphone, set an example by staying active with physical and outdoor activities.
Finding Alternatives to Screen Time
After a long day at school or the office, it may be tempting to spend your evening or weekend relaxing in front of the television. By limiting screen time, however, you can grow closer as a family.
Talk to your kids about the importance of quality family time. And make sure they understand that you’re not turning off the TV, computer or phone to punish them. Ask your children to help come up with fun alternatives to screen time. Kids are more likely to go along with new activities if they’re involved in the planning.
Here are a few ideas to keep your family busy—and away from a screen:
- Ride your bikes together.
- Take your dog for a walk.
- Check out the park or playground.
- Enjoy a dip in the local swimming pool.
- Play simple games, such as tag or leapfrog.
- Visit a nearby zoo, sports center or indoor climbing wall.
- Play catch, kick the soccer ball around or shoot some baskets.
- Plan a picnic or go camping in your own backyard.
- Try a new sport or sign up for a fitness class.
- Work in the garden and try a new recipe.
- Go bird-watching or stargazing.
- Create an activity basket, filled with sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, balls and Frisbees.
- Put on your favorite music and dance.