Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by Children’s Hospital.
Screen Time :: Tips for Managing Your Family’s Use
With the holidays over and New Orleans emerging from its recent cold snaps, children may be diving into electronics more than usual. Whether you like it or not, your kids may have received new tablets, video games, or computers as gifts over the holidays. Now is a good time to consider questions such as “how much time should my child be spending on these activities?” or “What games or apps are age appropriate for my child?” and even “Is too much screen time harmful?”
We live in a world where screen time is very much a part of everyday life for kids and adults. Hopefully these tips can help you navigate the best way to set some boundaries and monitor your children’s use of devices.
What does screen time refer to?
Screen time is a catch-all phrase that refers to the use of many electronics and devices, including phones, tablets, TV, computers and game consoles.
What is the big deal about screen time, and why should I be minimizing it?
One major concern surrounding the increasing amount of screen time is what it is replacing. The more time a child spends engaging in screen time, the less time he or she is engaging in physical activity or developmentally productive activities such as reading.
The research around the effects of screen time is still evolving, but some common trends and findings have emerged. Some studies have found the more time a child spends watching TV or engaging in screen time, the lower their level of reading achievement. Children learn to communicate and talk through their interactions with other people. So, if screen time is decreasing the amounts of these interactions, their speech development may in turn also be delayed.
What are some ways for a parent to manage screen time?
Create screen-free ZONES, such as:
- Bedrooms: Not allowing devices in the bedroom, even including phones, can decrease the temptation to check messages and apps when kids should be getting to sleep. Additionally, some studies have shown that the light emitted from devices, incoming messages, and calls interferes with one’s sleep cycle.
- Dining room/kitchen: Making these areas screen-free can encourage kids to participate in meal preparation and encourage having mealtime as a family.
- Stroller: If you take walks with your kids, resist the temptation to hand them a tablet for entertainment while in the stroller. Instead, talk to them about your surroundings or give them a book or toy to entertain them.
Create screen-free TIMES, such as:
- Mealtimes: This is a valuable time to spend together as a family, free from outside distractions.
- Short car rides: Long car rides or road trips are okay to use screen time for entertainment. However, for quick car rides to and from school, to and from the store, or other short trips around town, avoid handing your kids a tablet or phone for entertainment. Instead, talk to them about their school day, talk to them about where you are going, or turn on the radio.
- Bedtime: Everyone’s bedtime routine varies a little – whether it is bath, reading stories, or playing music. Try not to incorporate TV watching, playing with tablets or electronics into your bedtime routine.
Lead by example! This may be the hardest guideline for adults. Kids are like sponges and absorb everything around them and model many of their behaviors off what we do. Keep this in mind when you are on your phone in the car, have the TV on in your own bedroom, or check your phone during a meal.
Is my child engaging in too much screen time?
Parents may wonder whether their child has crossed the line between an appropriate amount of screen time usage and too much. Some worrisome signs include:
- Your child is sneaking screen time at times or places they are not supposed to.
- The daily or weekly amount of screen time is gradually increasing.
- One of the only things that can soothe your child when upset is use of a tablet.
Which apps or games are age appropriate for my child? What about “educational” apps?
Not every app or game is harmful to kids, and many can be educational and fun. One way to evaluate an app is to look at the source and who created it. Those created by teachers or educators tend to more educational and stimulating. Be wary of apps or games with in-app advertisements or in-app purchases. Without monitoring, kids could surprise you with what they click on when playing!
One of the best ways to decide if an app or game is okay for your child to be using is simply to try it out yourself. No one knows your child better than you. Try it out either on your own or with your child to decide if it seems appropriate for your child’s age, interests and development level.
Common Sense Media is a great resource for looking up movies, apps, books, and more. The website has recommendations and even more guidelines for monitoring a child’s screen time.
About Joanna Buckingham, MD
Dr. Buckingham is a Board-Certified Pediatrician. After completing her medical training with LSU Health New Orleans at Children’s Hospital, she recently joined Children’s Pediatrics. She is currently seeing patients at Children’s Pediatrics’ two new clinics in River Ridge and Laplace.