It's easy for modern kids to seemingly live their lives on screen.
Playing video games, watching TV, texting friends, liking Instagram and
Facebook posts, researching homework assignments online--screen time quickly adds up.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates children spend an average
of seven hours a day on what it calls "entertainment media,"
such as video games and TV, and most of that is consumed via computers,
tablets and smartphones. Add in time spent on computers or tablets during
school, and that's a lot of screen time.
“While hours spent looking at screens may be a by-product of our
tech-savvy, fast-paced world, parents should still strive for balance
when it comes to their children and their screen use,” says
Sandra Mathur, DO, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group in Diamond Bar. "Research has shown that excessive screen time can
affect children in many ways, such as a higher risk of obesity, sleeping
and eating problems, and difficulty learning.” A new study produced
by the USC Eye Institute with the National Institutes of Health found
that cases of childhood myopia, or nearsightedness, have doubled over
the past 50 years, and the researchers suspect too much screen time is
a major factor. And UCLA researchers found that children had more difficulty
reading other people's emotions the more time they spent on screens.
So screen time does have a major effect on a child's life.
If you want to get a handle on your child's screen time, here are some
tips from Dr. Mathur:
Develop guidelines for your kids. The AAP has recommended that children older than 2 spend no more than
two hours a day looking at screens; children younger than that shouldn't
have any screen time at all. “Talk with your children and set reasonable
limits that everyone can agree on," says Dr. Mathur. “For instance,
no playing on screens until after homework and dinner, or only for an
hour a day. Write down the rules and post them in your house so everyone
is aware of them."
Make screen-free zones, or areas of the home that are off-limits for electronic devices. These
areas could include bedrooms or the dining table.
Be a role model. "It sends a mixed message if you are telling your child to log off
their iPad while you are busy surfing the web on your smartphone,"
says Dr. Mathur. "Take a look at your own screen time and cut back
when necessary, and take advantage of the times you and your child are
both offline for some valuable face-to-face interaction."
Offer alternative activities. Encourage kids to go out and play when the weather is nice. Indoors, there
should be plenty of books, puzzles, board games and other non-digital
entertainment options they can choose from.
Try a family-wide screen-free week. Limit screen time to necessary work and school tasks only, and plan family
activities to fill the free time. Schools are known to host these screen-free
weeks as well; if your school doesn't offer it, see if you can coordinate one.
Don't neglect quality over quantity. Content matters, so don't just look at how much time your child spends
on screens, but what they are doing. For instance, it's not really
beneficial to your child if they only have an hour of screen time each
day, but spend it playing video games that are too violent for your preferences
as a parent. Keep computers and tablets in public areas of the home and
tell your children you may be checking their Internet browser history,
their social media pages and texts. Research the TV programs they watch
and the video games they play to keep an eye out for inappropriate subject
matter. One way to do that--watch the shows or play the games with your
kid. It will give you firsthand knowledge of the content and the opportunity
to discuss it with your child.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.