Screen use among kids has exploded over the past decade — not only outside of school, but also as an (often required) educational tool. Between homework, social media, video games and YouTube videos, many kids rack up six or seven hours of screen time daily.
Living in a virtual world
Once limited to TVs and PCs, personal electronic devices now include tablets, smartphones and laptop computers, all of which are easy to access and transport. While this technology expands the academic experience (and enables students to learn material in new ways) it also comes with a few serious caveats: Studies link screen time with depression, anxiety and interrupted sleep, among other concerns.
The best way to protect your children: Strike a balance between screen time and real-life human interaction.
The pros of screen time
In addition to acting as a vehicle for information, screens and digital technology offer the following advantages:
- They act as a tool for communicating with friends and family.
- Smartphone apps can help encourage kids to adopt healthful behaviors, such as regular exercise, healthier food choices and better sleep.
- Screens encourage learning. Some screen activities allow kids to learn new information in engaging ways.
The cons of screen time
While screens are a convenient way to access information and maintain relationships, they also come with several drawbacks:
- Screens may slow language development among younger children. A child can learn words by using the screen, but the screen can’t provide the feedback necessary for children to develop and use language.
- They stifle creative thinking. Creative activities – such as playing with play dough, drawing and crafting, stacking blocks or using building sets and reading tangible books – take a backseat in homes where screens are at the forefront.
- They interfere with social skills development. Some children become so attached to their screens that they aren’t able to behave in socially appropriate ways when screens are not present.
How to become screen time savvy
As a parent, it’s your job to be aware of how your child spends his or her time as well as the role screens play in their health and well-being. Watch how your children react to screen time and how they behave when screens are taken away. Do you notice significant behavioral problems when you nix screens? Does your child exhibit tantrums or outbursts? If so, then screen time might require tighter controls.
Try these six strategies to rein in your child’s screen time:
- Focus on academics. Make screen use related to schoolwork or other developmentally appropriate academic subjects top priority, and set clear boundaries around other uses.
- Delay giving smartphones to kids. Put off giving your children smartphones until they hit high school, if possible.
- Set limits. Children between the ages of two and five should use screens for less than one hour per day, according the American Academy of Pediatrics. For older kids, two hours is a good limit and be sure to be consistent when setting limits. When it comes to smartphones, use parental control software to limit text messaging and Internet access.
- Establish screen-free zones. Make sure everyone in your family – adults and kids alike – follow certain rules with regard to screens. A few solid examples: no screens during meal times, no smartphone use while driving and no screens of any type in the bedroom.
- Emphasize educational use. You can use educational content to teach your children about the world. Just make sure you’re part of the program. View the content with the child and then connect with them about what you learned.
- Be a good role model. Right or wrong, your child is programmed to follow your lead. If you text through dinner, keep your phone on the nightstand and stop mid-thought to read an email, you’re teaching your children that screens take priority.
Looking for a healthy way to use your child’s two hours of screen time? Download the app – just search for “5-2-1-0 Kids!” – wherever you get your apps. Developed by Henry Ford experts, the app teaches children the importance of healthy habits and provides an alternative to traditional screen use. The goal is to get fit, have fun and encourage kids to use their imaginations. Soon, kids ages 9 to 13 will have an app targeted just for them as well: 5-2-1-0 Go!
If you’re concerned about your child’s screen time, or think he or she may be addicted, make an appointment with a Henry Ford pediatrician. Visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936) to get help.