Reducing Screen Time in the Home

Tablets, smartphones, computers, televisions, and more…our world today often seems to be dominated by screens. Yet, one of the most common warnings heard by parents everywhere is:

“Don’t let your child have too much screen time!”

This warning may instantly lead many parents to wonder, “How much is too much?” And once that is determined, “What can I do to set limits on screen time in my home?” Let’s take a look at these common thoughts and questions!

Why is too much screen time a bad thing?

Recent research has produced a variety of results on the potential negative outcomes for children who spend too much time each day watching or using screens. Dr. Cara Booker and colleagues discovered that children who use screens heavily tend to be less happy and suffer from more social/emotional problems than their peers. The content of what is behind many screens can often encourage feelings of discouragement and low self-esteem.  Children who spend a large amount of time “tuned-in” to a screen also tend to miss out on learning and practicing important social skills, such as maintaining conversation and managing social conflict. Additional studies report that children who spend more time watching and using screens also spend less time sleeping at night. Screens can cause physical stimulation within your child’s brain, causing excitement that makes it more difficult to calm down and get ready fro sleep. Too much screen time is also linked to a higher risk for obesity, one reason being that screen time while eating can distract a child’s body from understanding when it is full, which may lead to over-eating. Overall, children who are exposed to increased screen time tend to present with increased cognitive, language, and social/emotional delays.

How much is too much?

With significant potential harms noted, it is important to ask, how much screen time is too much? To answer this question, The American Academy of Pediatrics created age-based guidelines on screen time for children. The exact numbers, as well as additional useful tips on appropriate media usage for children, can be found on their website:The American Academy of Pediatrics Age-Based Guidelines.

Helpful Tip: The American Academy of Pediatrics also offers online tools for families to create a unique “Family Media Plan” or to use a “Media Time Calculator.” Find both tools here.

Remember, these guidelines are just that – a GUIDE – and every family will run into days where screen time exceeds the recommended amount. That is okay!You may find that during a particularly stressful day at home, or over a long weekend spent mostly in the car, your child’s screen time total adds up to much more than the number stated in these guidelines. As long as these “excess” days are limited, and not the norm, they will not have the same negative effects on your child.

Steps to Reducing Screen Time

Once you begin to notice that excessive screen time is the norm in your home, it is time to consider taking action! Here are seven steps to get you started:

  1. Eat all meals without a screen
  • Allow meals to be a time to interact with one another. Share a favorite story from the day, or something you hope to see happen that day!
  1. Set up “technology-free” zones
  • Choose one area of your home. This is a great opportunity to get your child’s input. If they contribute to creating the technology-free zone, they will be more likely to actually utilize the technology-free zone! *NOTE: Be sure all beds are zoned to be “TECH-FREE”
  1. Set a timer when using screens
  • Sand timers, kitchen timers, and digital alarm clocks all work well! Before screen time begins, have your child set the timer with you (to the pre-determined time allowed) and review what happens when the timer goes off.
  1. Schedule specific times each day to “un-plug”
  • As a family, decide on a period of time during the day when you will collectively “un-plug.” This means parents too! Together you will put all phones, tablets and computers away. Turn off the TV and tune into your environment instead. *NOTE: Timers can be used to track your un-plugged time too!
  1. Use parental controls
  • Most devices offer an option for parental controls. Using this setting will allow you to set time limits and make sure that your child is only exposed to parent-approved content.
  1. Model limited screen use
  • Your children learn from watching you! Practice limiting your own screen time so that your child will see it can be done (and hopefully see the benefits as well).
  1. Replace screen-time with a different engaging activity
  • Have a plan ready for what your child can do with the time he/she used to spend with a screen. Below are just a few of many options available for activities that can replace screen-time, and better promote your child’s health and development!

Examples of Alternative Activities

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s development or the effects of screen time in your home, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or at (773) 332-9439.

Stephanie Wroblewski, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

References:

Grant, Sheena. “Do Children Have Too Much Screen Time and Does It Matter How Much Time They Spend on IPads, Smartphones and Laptops?” East Anglian Daily Times, 17 Oct. 2015, www.eadt.co.uk/ea-life/do-children-have-too-much-screen-time-and-does-it-matter-how-much-time-they-spend-on-ipads-smartphones-and-laptops

The American Academy of Pediatrics Website, (Itasca, IL, USA). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. Retrieved from: https://www.aap.org

The American Academy of Pediatrics Website, (Itasca, IL, USA). Family Media Plan. Retrieved from: https://www.healthychildren.org

Photo credit: Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

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