Screen time has been a much-debated topic among parents, caregivers, and educators. However, the focus has been mainly on how badly it affects children. According to a 2010 study, children between the ages of eight to 18 in the United States spend around 7.5 hours on average with screens. This, along with the inevitable fact that the screens aren’t going anywhere, had parents and caregivers worry and wonder about how to limit screen time.
Let’s Learn More About Screen Time
Essentially, screen time is the time spent utilizing electronic media. These include televisions, smartphones or even game consoles. There are many reasons why screens are used. In the end, most of the time, these devices and screens make our lives easier and more entertaining. They are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Though screen time can seem innocent at times, it is essential that parents and caregivers monitor their child’s screen time habits. For over twenty years, scientists and parents have been debating over screen time and many studies have been done on the subject. The majority of the studies point to the fact that unstructured and unmonitored screen time can harm your children in more ways than you realize.
Issues that Screen Time May Cause
Though it is not fair to blame every problem your child may be going through on the time they spend on their phones or computers, overuse of or unstructured screen time can cause real physical and mental issues to your child like the following:
Doing poorly in school
After health problems, this may be one of the biggest concerns for parents and caregivers. The observation is that elementary school-age children with televisions or other devices in their bedroom perform worse than those without these devices in their rooms. Of course, screen time may not be the only thing causing your child to perform poorly, but its contributions can be detrimental.
Movement and exercise are such a big deal in a developing child’s life. Unfortunately, too much screen time can push the child towards a sedentary lifestyle, and can be linked to the child being obese and overweight. There are other moving parts here, though. The food advertisements on the TV can cause the child to develop an appetite for junk food. Also, experts recommend that no one should eat while also watching television or playing video games, because the act can make children overeat without noticing.
Behavior Issues and Violence
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that too much screen time can cause children to internalize what they see on the television and screen, imitate the characters they see, and resort to violence when they face a problem in their lives. This overexposure to violence through video games, television or other screens may eventually cause the child to be desensitized to the violence. Moreover, school-age children who spend more than two hours a day watching television or playing video games were found more likely to have attention and social problems.
Irregular Sleep Schedules and Sleep Problems
Children may get caught up in playing video games or binge-watching a TV series day in and day out, especially during the holidays. Or, you may think to yourself that watching TV with your family to wind down before sleep is nice. However, the effects of screens on sleep were studied and the results showed that the light emitted from the screens interferes with the sleep cycle in the brain. It might be a good idea to not look at a screen at least an hour or two before bed. Because these harmful acts may eventually cause the child to develop insomnia.
Is Screen Time Really That Bad? What are Screen Time Recommendations?
Yes, screen time has been a highly debated topic. The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend that children should not spend more than two hours of screen time. However, with the development of technology, it is not realistic to escape screens and abide by this recommendation. The new guidelines by the AAP now focus on suggesting healthy habits that parents and children can adopt to prevent harm through screen time.
Of course, there is no solution that will fit all. However, if parents and caregivers are more informed about screen time and uses of it, and a structure is established, screen time can be beneficial for children. If used smartly, technology is a great source of information, education, and entertainment. The important point here is that parents should monitor the screen time their child spends as well as the content they consume.
There are a couple of recommendations by the AAP for the parents. They should model a healthy way of using technology, and establish a set of rules. Make sure that you as a parent put reasonable limits on time spent with devices. Unlimited access is not such a good idea.
Benefits of Quality Screen Time for Children with Special Needs
Parents and caregivers of children with special needs may especially worry regarding their kid’s screen time. Some characteristics and behaviors that come with the neurodiversity of the child, for instance, an autism spectrum disorder. Parents of children with special needs may feel like their children are at a higher risk compared to their peers without neurodiversity.
Children with special needs may exhibit characteristics such as difficulty with social skills, limited communication skills, or trouble sleeping. Children with autism may also have restricted and repetitive behavior. All of these may cause the child to be attracted to the smart device, and use it more often than anticipated. Of course, these are all valid fears.
However, when used right, there is an abundance of positive sides to the use of technology and smart devices. Screen time can be used to the advantage of the child. There are various tools and resources available online and on screen that support the child’s education. Many smart devices are built to support the child’s speech and language development, even become their way of communication, like Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.
The trick with utilizing screen time to the benefit of the child is to make sure that you monitor the time spent as well as the spent they consume. It is important that the child is interacting with the device or the screen, rather than passively watching it. This will make sure that the child improves their brain and motor skill development. Playing the piano or drawing a tree on the screen will be much more beneficial than watching a video that isn’t interactive.
Another point to make is that using screen time as a distraction is not really the way to go. Children, especially children with an autism spectrum disorder love routines and repetitions. Try to strategically administer screen time when social interaction is low during the day. This will make sure that the child still practices on their skills. However, avoid screen time right before bedtime, as it is harmful to the sleep schedule of your child.
Although it might be difficult to manage the screen time your child with special needs spends, catching these early and intervening and being adamant on your structure will be much more beneficial, and your child will be able to get the best and most technology can offer without actually doing harm to themselves.
So how do I limit screen time for my kid?
There is no specific method that works for everyone or for every child and parents and caregivers may find it difficult to limit the screen time for their child. You should know that the first step is to just start noticing, being aware of the time and the content. Then, it is possible to limit the screen time, and turn it into something that is beneficial for the child. Mayo Clinic has some tips that you can try to limit your child’s time spent on screens, like the following.
No eating in front of screens
You may have noticed that when you start eating in front of your TV or computer, you sometimes don’t know when you finished your meal. This is because screens can cause overeating and mindless munching as you don’t realize how much you eat while also watching something. Eating in front of screens can also increase your child’s time spent on watching these devices.
No background TV
There is no point in turning the TV on for background noise. Your child will be distracted by it, and there is no doubt about it. They will probably turn their head to the screen and watch it at one point. So if you are not actively watching the TV, try not to turn it on. Also try turning the TV off altogether a couple of nights a day, where you do something else as a family, like reading a book or playing board games.
No screens in the bedroom
The negative effects of screen time on sleep is now established. Putting electronics and other similar devices in your child’s bedroom would cause them to spend much more time on them compared to those who don’t have screens or devices in their rooms. Having these screens in the bedroom would also allow the child to use them right before sleep, which is harmful. Also, having these devices in a common room would allow the parents and caregivers to easily monitor the time and content.