A Guide to Healthy Screen Time for Kids

Getting through the long, dark winter can be a challenge. Kids have fewer chances to play outside because of colder temperatures and less daylight. This is also cold and flu season, and sick days out of school may mean more hours in front of a screen.

What is screen time?
Screen time refers to the time spent watching TV or using a device such as a computer, tablet, video game console or smartphone. There are benefits and risks of screen time, so it is important to make sure that kids don’t spend too much time in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics gives the following suggestions:

  • Children under 18 months should avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • Children 18-24 months can watch high-quality programs, but an adult should watch or play with them to help them understand what they are seeing.
  • Children aged 2-5 should limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programs that interest the children and support learning with adults watching or playing with them. 
  • Children aged 6 and older should have regular limits on the time spent using media and the types of media used.

Benefits of Screen Time
Screen time and media can be good for children for many reasons. Media can help children learn new and important skills. For example, children can learn about counting and letter names through shows like Sesame Street. Activities like computer games with friends can give children opportunities to learn social skills like turn-taking and cooperation. Creating a presentation for school could help your child learn PowerPoint or other video-editing skills.

Media can also connect children to the world around them. By exposing children to new ideas and information, and raising awareness of current events and issues, children can learn about cultures different from their own. And through the use of social media, families and friends who live far apart can now connect with each other through technology.

Risks of Screen Time
While there are benefits to screen time, there are also risks to consider. Using a screen for long periods of time can lead to inactivity and contribute to obesity. Too much screen time can also cause physical ailments like sore, irritated or dry eyes; headaches and fatigue; and discomfort in the neck and spine.

Too much screen time can also have a negative effect on the development of language and social skills. Screen time can affect children’s ability to keep eye contact, read body language and have conversations. Children need real-life interactions to develop these skills. Screen time at night can also disrupt sleep, which can in turn negatively impact school performance.

Finally, some media sources can also pose safety risks. Children can come across dangerous content or people through chat rooms, online games and social networking. Therefore, it is a good idea to monitor the content children can access on the internet.

Tips for Reducing Screen Time
Understanding the pros and cons of screen time empowers parents and caregivers to make informed choices. Here are a few steps you can take to provide a healthy balance of screen time for your family:

  • Create a family media plan. Technology is a central part of families daily lives, and a family media plan can offer a realistic way to manage media and devices at home.
  • Set aside media-free times, such as during dinner, and media-free unplugged rooms in the home, such as bedrooms.
  • Turn off screens one hour before bedtime.
  • Be a good role model by turning off your own screens.
  • Find alternate activities to do during the times when your children most often use screens. Reading, art or music projects, playing with friends or family game time are all good options.
  • Find ways to get your child moving. Take part in a team or club sport, dance class or family activities that include walking (like going to a museum or the zoo).

Written by: Hannah de Vries

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