Today’s parents are faced with decisions to make over how much time their children spend in front of a screen. “Screen time” is a term used for activities done in front of a screen like watching videos on a tablet, working on a computer, watching TV or playing video games. Computers can help kids with their schoolwork because of easy access to research and the ability to type reports and essays. Surfing the internet, spending too much time on Facebook or watching YouTube videos, however, are considered to be forms of unhealthy screen time in big doses. Parents should also understand that videos aimed at very young children do not improve their development; children need learning interaction to come from a person.
The average American child spends about three hours a day watching TV but when you include other forms of screen time, many children are actually totaling five to seven hours per day.
The dangers of too much screen time
- Screen time stimulates activity in the brain and can make it harder for children to calm down for a restful night’s sleep.
- Screen time can increase a child’s risk of attention deficit disorder, ability to focus, anxiety and depression.
- Because of the sedentary nature of screen time, too much time in front of a screen can increase a child’s risk for obesity. In addition, people tend to eat more when they are watching TV and may be influenced to eat junk food by commercials.
Screen time guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics
- No screen time for children under the age of two.
- Limit screen time to one to two hours a day for children over the age of two.
Tips to decrease your kids’ screen time
- Encourage outdoor and imaginative play whenever you can.
- If your child wants to put on a play for you; be present and interested.
- Take your kids to the park and push them on the swing.
- Engage in or encourage stimulating activities with your children such as baking, reading, singing, doing puzzles, playing board games, tag, hide-and-go seek, dancing or going for a walk.
- Never put TV on as background noise; play music or keep the house quiet.
- Never offer a TV show, video game or tablet; wait for your child to ask.
- Talk to your children about the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
- Encourage reading.
- Do not put a TV or computer in your child’s bedroom.
- Do not allow TV watching during meals or homework.
- Do not let your child eat while watching TV or using the computer.
- Decide how many shows to watch ahead of time and communicate it to your children. Turn off the TV when those programs are over.
- Keep a record of how much time is spent in front of a screen daily and try to spend the same amount of time being active. If you have a day with a lot of hours spent in front of the screen, try to make up for it with more outdoor activities the next day.
Be a good role model as a parent. Decrease your own screen time to two hours a day and put the screen down to look your child in the eye while they talk to you. Challenge your family to go one week without watching TV or using other screens. Find things to do with your time that get you moving and burning energy such as gardening, running or going to the gym. Parents should also understand that leaving a child in front of a screen for hours on end could be considered parental benign neglect: an attitude or policy of ignoring a situation that a parent is held to be responsible for dealing with.
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