Maybe it started really innocent. One day you probably just handed your iPhone to your crying toddler to calm them down. As a responsible parent, you also made sure to expose them to high-quality educational programs only.
While some screen time doesn’t seem to be the enemy at first, things get ugly when kids start throwing tech tantrums every time you make them put the phone/iPad down or turn the TV off. Now, you’re concerned, but how do you limit your child’s screen time? Is too much screen time really that bad?
Keep reading, and I’m going to tell you why you should limit screen time, how much is not too much and how you can manage your child’s screen time without feeling like a bad parent.
6 Reasons Why Too Much Screen Time Can Have Negative Consequences
First, let’s look into 6 reasons why you need to limit screen time for your kids.
Sleep disruption and deprivation
Research shows that 30% of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children experience sleep disruption due to excessive exposure to screen media.
The artificial blue light emitted from cell phones, tablets, iPads, or TVs keeps them wide awake long after putting the electronics away.
If your kids spend a good amount of time playing video games and/or watching TV, they barely get enough physical activity done.
A sedentary lifestyle is directly associated with childhood obesity, which increases the risk of developing various health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.
Prolonged screen time is linked to behavioral and attention issues in children. It causes sensory overload, which makes them irritable and negatively affects their ability to concentrate. Research has shown that excessive screen time seems to trigger impulsive behavior in kids.
Violence and Aggression
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, when kids frequently play violent video games and watch violent TV shows or movies, they unknowingly start to imitate those behaviors they’re exposed to.
Slower Early Child Development
Studies have shown that kids who spend more than 2 hours a day on digital media exhibit cognitive developmental delay and poor performance on memory-specific and language development activities than kids who spend less than 2 hours in front of a screen.
Eye and Vision Problems
When their eyes are glued to the screen for hours watching YouTube videos or playing games, kids don’t blink as much, resulting in eyestrain, discomfort, headaches, blurry vision, and itchy eyes.
Too much screen time may also lead to
- a lack of social-emotional skills,
- neck and back pain,
- poor performance at school
- anxiety and depression.
How do I limit my child’s screen time?
Here are some tried and tested guidelines to limit screen time for the betterment of your child. Since no two kids are alike, leave room for trial and error until you find the strategies that work best for your kids.
Lead by Example
Children are mirrors of their parents. That’s why you need to model the kind of screen use that you want them to adopt. You can’t encourage them to set limits on their screen time while you’re binging on your favorite show on Netflix or scrolling through social media throughout the whole weekend.
You surely deserve to relax and wind down after a busy week. But, since it’s your job is to be their role model, avoid screens when they’re around. Rather pick up a book or go for a run around the block with them. This will help your kids cultivate lasting and healthy habits.
Set a Limit on Their Devices
Set strict screen time rules and make sure to enforce them consistently. You can set up parental controls on your child’s iOS, Android, Xbox, and Windows 10 devices. If you set up Screen Time on their iPhone, Ipad, or iPod touch, you can keep track of their weekly screen use.
With Content & Privacy Restrictions in Screen Time, You can block specific apps, websites and restrict explicit web content to keep your kids safe online. Similarly, Android devices allow you to set Family Link to manage screen time and Google Play apps.
With these limits, you can lock your kids’ device when it’s bedtime. They won’t be able to unlock the device without the passcode and see any notifications.
Create Screen-free Zones
Commit to keeping your bedroom, dining table, and family outings screen-free. Turn the TV off, switch off your work phone, and make sure your kids leave their tablets or video game console alone before entering the screen-free zones.
Also, please don’t leave the TV on as background noise because that’ll make it harder for the kids to concentrate on the conversation you’re having. That way, all of you can spend some quality time as a family, engage in conversations and strengthen the family bond.
Many parents resort to electronic devices during long car rides to avoid hearing ‘Are we there yet?’ every 10 minutes. While watching a show for 20 minutes is okay during a long road trip, don’t allow it in the morning before school and when the car ride isn’t longer than an hour.
Encourage Activities That Don’t Involve Screens.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children should engage in moderate to vigorous physical activities. In contrast, research has found that more than 23% of American adults and 80% of adolescents lead a sedentary lifestyle.
To change that, you can organize an outdoor play date and invite their friends over. Make sure they don’t start watching their favorite TV show the moment they get together. Instead, create an outdoor scavenger hunt, tell them to build a fort, or let them be creative and make their own games.
If they’re stuck indoors due to bad weather, there are still many fun activities to opt for that don’t require screens. Want some ideas? How about making a sensory bin, playdough, or slime? With older kids, use your digital detox time to play board games, bake something or make dinner together.
Give Them Your Undivided attention.
Go unplugged for an hour every day and spend some quality time playing with them. This will work wonders with your younger kids because they love to play with their parents. Get down on the floor and play with their toys.
Discover their interests and teach them to play independently. You can start a parent-child book club or make them break a sweat with different fitness challenges for your older kids. How about you start small with a ‘book a week challenge’ or ’10 pushup challenge’ and take it from there?
When you set limits, make sure to follow through because if you bend the rules, your little genius will trick you into giving them extra 30 minutes. Be consistent and strict. They might get really irritable at the beginning.
But once they see you’re not flinching after the constant whining, they’ll start getting used to handing the device over without making a fuss. Sure, it will take time and patience, but they’ll start managing their own screen time once they get into the routine.
There are few more things you can do to curb their screen time.
- Incorporate non-negotiable physical activity after screen time.
- Don’t put a TV in your child’s room.
- As tempting as it may seem, don’t use screen time as a reward or punishment.
- Please explain why you want them to reduce screen time.
- Please don’t allow them to use social media until they’re 13.
- Even when they’re allowed to have a social media account without lying about their age, monitor their media use.
How Much Screen Time Is Good?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and WHO guidelines, the recommended screen time by age are as follows:
Infants and Toddlers (0-2 years)
If your child is less than 1 year old, zero screen time is recommended. The only exception to this rule is occasional video chatting with family members. The same rule applies until they’re 2 years of age.
Both AAP and WHO recommend no more than 1 hour of screen time per day for preschoolers. They should only watch high-quality programs accompanied by you so that you can explain what’s happening.
School-age children (6-12 years)
Many schools use smart boards or tablets to teach kids, which makes it hard to keep the screen time under 2 hours a day on weekdays. So for school-age children, it’s a good idea to limit screen time on weekdays and let them watch few more episodes or play an extra 30 minutes over the weekends.
Young teens/adolescents (12 -18 years)
There’s no specific time limit set for this age group. You should set a reasonable limit and create a schedule for your teens that incorporates enough screen-free activities along with their designated screen time.
Limiting screen time might make you unpopular with the kids initially, but you’re doing it for their healthy development.
So, let go of the parental guilt and keep going. As long as they’re using age-appropriate media, developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle along with a good social life, you’ve got nothing to worry about.