HOW MUCH SCREEN TIME IS TOO MUCH?
HOW MUCH SCREEN TIME IS ACCEPTABLE FOR CHILDREN?
This same question has been asked of every new innovation going as far back as the introduction of the radio and probably before that. It seems as if parents have always been struggling to find the right balance between healthy outdoor activity and passive ones. Today, the struggle is even more confusing due to the proliferation of devices, games, social media, computer-based content creation and communication.
Not to betray my age or anything, but I remember, clearly, when Pong came to our television at home. In that moment, to me, the world shifted just slightly. I can actually control something on the TV? It was mind-boggling.
Children are spending more and more screen time than ever before. Although it is tempting to simply set a time limit like television watching, it doesn’t seem that it is as easily accomplished. Technology in all its sorted forms have pervaded so many aspects of our lives, beginning at younger and younger ages, that it’s almost a full-time job to monitor its usage by our children.
SCREEN TIME VARIES
Designating the use of today’s technology simply as “screen time” can overlook some important variations. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time:
- Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music
- Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
- Communication: video-chatting and using social media
- Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music
While communication may be a frequent usage type (texting, phone, video-chatting) throughout the day, content creation could be school related. Passive and Interactive consumption may be in lieu of more active pursuits. How do you monitor and what do you restrict?
What if you set parameters based on total usage time regardless of the purpose? 4 hours a day of screen time. That might mean on Day One, 3 hours are spent on computer homework and 1 hour games and Day two, 4 hours of games since no homework was required. Would that be acceptable?
Ultimately, your goal should be a balanced experience for your child between the healthy use of technology regardless of its usage and non-screen time activities.
The number of hours split between these will differ between families and, possibly, even seasons.
Screen time should not replace family time. Every opportunity for family interaction, communication and simply playing should be grabbed for the precious time it truly is. We’ve all heard the old adage,”They grow up so quickly.” Well, it’s true! Take it from one with a 28-year-old who was 2 years old a heartbeat ago.
Watch behavior. If, after screen time, your child is positive, up beat, still developing off-line social skills, then that’s the attitude you want to maintain.
Monitor time usage just as you are monitoring, hopefully, your child’s intake of junk food, for example. Be flexible (i.e. rainy day may need a serious source of entertainment) but be consistent. Be firm. Remember, children are natural negotiators.
Monitor type of usage. Confirm that the material being viewed and interacted with is age-appropriate. Set down some rules.
Participate. This doesn’t mean you need to be a helicopter parent, but technology is a big part of our children’s lives so be willing to learn and be part of the experience.
For example, my nephew loves building things in Minecraft. So, I drew my “dream home” for him to re-create inside the game. He wants me to “grade” him; not something that ever occurred to me, but okay. Once he has completed my dream home, I plan to do more and more complicated drawings for him to recreate, challenging him. Even though he lives in AZ and I am in CA, we are interacting.
Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — one of the only established organizations to make recommendations on screen time — offers guidelines that put limits on media exposure. Studies have shown a link between heavy media use and issues such as obesity, lack of sleep, academic challenges, aggression, and other behavior difficulties.
AAP will be issuing new recommendations in 2016 emphasizing that not all screen time is equal and that take into account the many different kinds of activities that occur on screens (for example, watching TV is not the same as video-chatting with Grandma).
Remember, screen time is not a right; it’s a privilege.