Is Screen Time So Bad?
It doesn't surprise anyone that studies show our time using screens increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Children switched from attending school in-person to learning on their computer or tablet, while many parents began working remotely. Providing childcare while working provided impossible to many parents, and inevitably many turned to allowing children more screen time to help manage completing tasks.
Most of us can agree that adjusting to such big changes was hard and overwhelming. As we get back to a new normal, re-evaluating your kid’s current screen usage may be important. The true impact of screen use on children aren't known to many parents.
What are the recommended amount of screen times by age?
Bad news, folks. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children 18 months and younger should only use screens when video chatting with family and kids between 18 and 24 months can watch educational videos with their parents or caregiver.
For kids between 2 and 5, videos that are not educational should be allowed for no more than 1 hour a day on weekdays, or 3 hours on each Saturday and Sunday. Kids 6 years old and older should be encouraged to make healthy screen habits such as no tv during dinner, no electronic devices in their bedroom, and putting away screens 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed.
Most families agree this is much less than their kiddo is using on a daily basis.
Well, what do screens do to kids, anyway?
Anything in addition the amounts recommended above is considered "excessive use." Research has shown that excessive screen use changes children’s brain structures, and can negatively impact their behavior, academic functioning, physical health, mental health, and sleep. Screen use overstimulates our brain and nervous system, changing our sleep, hormones, and brain chemistry. These changes can affect our thinking, behavior, mood, and ability to interact with others.
Behavioral problems like aggression and inattention are associated with high levels of screen use in children. This high level of screen time is also associated with lower levels of social and life skills. The number of electronic devices a child has in their room and the time they stop using these devices before bed impacts their quality of sleep. What we know about poor quality sleep? It's been shown to impact mental health such as increasing levels of anxiety. Preadolescents (9–12-year-old) and adolescents using higher screen times have been associated with having higher risks of depression and more severe depression symptoms.
Screens often offer children instant gratification when they may be bored, which doesn’t allow the opportunity for them to learn how to cope with their experiences. Monitoring what your child watches is also important. Content that is inappropriate, like movies rated for older viewers has been associated with poor social skills, hyperactivity, and aggression. Kids with unrestricted access often find themselves accidentally accessing inappropriate websites - including porn - since they don't have the ability to discriminate safe from unsafe websites as readily as adults can.
What should kids so instead?
For children of all ages, the increase in screen time has meant a decrease in time they could spend on unstructured play. This type of play and exploration offers children the opportunity to practice problem solving, self-regulation, creative thinking, and imaginative expression – all important to their development.
Setting a plan for the family
As breaks and summertime approaches (bringing along with it more free time!) this may be a good opportunity to be proactive and make a plan for your family. For tips on how to begin creating screen time rules, visit healthychildren.org/mediauseplan
We recommend this website because it allows you to prioritize what is important to you and your family. Being both Android and IOS friendly, you can select the ages of each individual in your family and receive specific tips on how to implement screen rules. It also offers explanations of why each tip can be beneficial to the family. Once you’ve chosen what is important to your family, you can print out the selected tips and place them somewhere in your home where the entire family can see them.
It is important to remember that children often model what adults do. Being mindful of your own screen time and how often you use your devices while with your kids can be helpful in making positive changes as a family.
Contact us if you're worried about your child's screen time usage and are looking for support.