It’s no secret that kids love to spend lots of time on screens. All kinds of digital devices are popular these days and they seem to be present everywhere. While televisions used to be the only screen in town, with the invention of the computer, it wasn’t long before countless types of tech gadgets came on the scene. Now wherever you go, including malls, restaurants, schools and even summer camps, digital screens are unavoidable for both adults and kids.
Current statistics show that preteens spend on average 8 hours per day on screens (yikes!). This includes a combination of usage such as watching TV, playing music, watching videos, playing video games, and interacting on social media. In addition, as parents consider how much screen time their child is consuming, they often forget the time on screens kids get outside the home, such as at school (educational games, online assessments and learning software), on the bus (smartphones and iPads) and at friends’ houses (TV, video games, YouTube, Netflix, social media).
Take this quick quiz to determine if you need to consider reducing your child’s screen time.
Is this really a problem? Many moms and dads are asking this question lately, as the negative effects of screen time for kids becomes a hot issue around the globe. Research clearly shows that computers and personal devices can actually be problematic, particularly for the young not-fully-developed brain of a child and should be monitored closely by parents.
7 important reasons why parents need to pay attention to their child’s screen time:
Studies suggest that screens such as tablets, smartphones, laptops, notebooks and desktops can increase depression, anxiety and aggression in kids while decreasing positive social interaction and interests such as playing outside and reading. Experts are calling video games and other online addictions (like gambling and porn) “digital drugs.” Much like cocaine and heroin, digital devices stimulate the front part of the brain, leaving the child hyper-aroused like only addictive substances can do. The dangerous part comes when the young user is not playing and finds regular life and people interactions boring, prompting a desire for more stimulation and creating a vicious cycle.
When children devote all of this time to their screens, they spend less time on healthy fun such as getting exercise through outdoor games or sports, engaging in creative play or artistic pursuits, or mentally stimulating activities such as puzzles or reading. Each of these alternatives contribute to a well-rounded, healthy and intelligent child. For example, reading develops important skills such as reflection, critical thinking and imagination, and watching TV or playing video games contributes nothing to these areas. Over 200 studies show that screen time increases ADHD, aggressive behavior and social isolation, which may explain why your child’s attention seems to wander, or why he throws a tantrum when you ask him to put down the video game joystick and do his homework. It is WAY harder to treat a child or teen who is already addicted to digital media than it is to set healthy limits before the problem starts.
Children who need to be treated for screen time addiction sometimes wind up going to “rehab,” such as a wilderness program, in order to detox and rewire the brain. There is a reason why parents from the techy world keep their kids away from devices as long as possible. Steve Jobs was a perfect example of a low-tech parent, as are countless Silicon Valley executives who enroll their kids in tech-free Montessori and Waldorf schools. While Minecraft and Facebook might seem harmless at first, time on personal devices can eventually lead to more dangerous and damaging sites. Hard as it seems to believe, kids today at very young ages are sexting, viewing porn and participating in depression-type blogs that glamorize cutting, anorexia and even suicide. These are easy for kids to access, particularly on their smartphones since they are small and everyone has their own.
What can you do about it?
As one mom points out, “The smaller the device, the harder it is to control it” so don’t think if you don’t see a screen your child isn’t using one. Parents need to keep a tight watch on how their child is using devices. The more time on screens, the more closely you need to monitor. Set smart household rules, such as no electronics in the bedroom, or after 8 pm, and stick to them. Consider limiting the amount of time he spends on digital devices each day, and guide him to use screens for more productive pursuits such as reading an eBook or listening to an audiobook. Be sure to set parental controls and blocking software on digital devices and let your child know you are monitoring what she is doing online to keep communication open.
How much screen time is too much?
There are no hard and fast rules to answer this question, so as a parent you need to be the judge. Many parents of younger children feel one hour of combined screen time is enough, while up to two hours per day for older elementary and middle school children may be acceptable. When you decide on a time limit and share it with your child, be sure you are clear on what that includes and stick to it. A sure-fire way to fail at keeping this boundary is to enforce it intermittently. Your child should participate in a healthy dose of non-digital activities that he enjoys every day to ensure that technology does not completely take over his free time.
The hard truth is that technology is too powerful for kids to handle alone, and they will always choose the fun, highly stimulating option over any other activity unless parents help them and give firm guidance. You may be unpopular with the under-20 crowd in your house by setting up some rules and being the enforcer, but the rewards will be priceless for both you and your child if you do.
If you notice that your child is no longer interested in healthy activities such as going outdoors, playing sports, being with friends and reading books, take this short quiz to see if you may have something to worry about.