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3 Ways To Support Healthy Screen Time Habits for Your Kids

kids looking at screens

Too much screen time is a common concern among parents and it’s a question that comes up frequently in therapy sessions.  So we wanted to share some helpful information with you about it here.

Some common fears that parents have is that screen time will have a negative impact on their child’s cognitive and/or social development. 

It’s very unlikely that your child can avoid screens altogether with remote learning and the use of Facetime or other video chat platforms to keep in touch with family and friends. 

Therefore, learning to establish boundaries and place limits on screen time are important.

In our previous post ‘How Does Screen Time Affect Your Mental Health?’, we discussed how screen time affects adults.  When it comes to screen time for kids there are some similarities as well as  some additional considerations.  

A parent’s choice to allow their children to have or use a device, whether it’s a phone, laptop, ipad, etc., is not something that can be judged from the outside. Each family has to make the best decisions for their family and their specific circumstances. 

Some children only connect with their relatives through video chat or text and having an option to foster those relationships through technology is a positive thing. 

However,  childhood is a crucial time for brain and cognitive development and studies have shown that too much screen time can have a negative impact.  

Therefore, having limits on screen time can be a positive thing for parents to consider.  

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health has shown that children spending approximately 2 hours on screens have lower thinking/reasoning power and language processing ability. Moreover, the study has found that the brain area (cortex) responsible for reasoning and critical thinking becomes thinner in children who spend more than 7 hours on screens.’ News-medical.net

A child learns a lot through their environment and surroundings, as well as by observing others.  Excessive screen time can limit the learning that takes place during these interactions.  

Screen time can be an addiction for both adults and kids, but kids usually have a harder time identifying it as an addiction and acknowledging that the addiction is a negative thing. Therefore, they may show more resistance when boundaries regarding screen time are put in place.  

Screen time releases dopamine in the brain, which makes them feel good;  so the more screen time your child has, the more time they will want.  

It’s likely that screen time becomes more of a need than a choice or desire, because your child will crave that dopamine release.  

Awareness

As a parent one important thing you can do is set a good example with your own screen time.  

Talk about the boundaries you have in place for yourself and show them how it looks to uphold those boundaries; kids are always watching.  

Having conversations about screen time and being open with your children about it’s negative impacts (in an age appropriate way), can help them learn, from a young age, that it is an important thing to manage.  That awareness and openness on the topic can make a big difference.  

Educating your children on the negative impacts of too much screen time can be just as vital to their well-being as educating them on the negative impacts of other behaviors like poor eating habits and lack of physical activity.  

If you would like guidance on how to calculate the amount of screen time for your child, an online search may yield varying opinions.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend the following: 

  • Little to no screen time for toddlers but if they are allowed screen time it’s important that it’s high quality, educational content.  
  • Around an hour a day for preschoolers 
  • Around 1.5 for elementary school kids with an emphasis on ensuring that screen time does not interfere with essentials such as sleep and physical activity.  
  • Middle schoolers may increase to around 2 hours per day, however, it’s important to educate them on how too much screen time can have a negative impact on their life.

How to Manage Screen Time

There are lots of apps and tools available to monitor your child’s online activity as well as set limits for their screen time.  A few popular ones are Zift, Screen time, Unglue, Qustodio and Norton Family.  Most of them have free and paid premium options.  Parents.com gives detailed info on each of these apps HERE

A good place to start when creating boundaries and limits for screen time is to assess the current amount of time your child spends online and what times during the day they are using their devices.  You can then determine what they are doing with the rest of their time, whether it’s school work, sports, family time, etc.  Knowing what their typical day looks like and how much time is spent on a device will help you determine what changes need to be made and how their new routine will look. 

Creating a plan together as a family is a good way to explain to your child why screen time limits are important and to talk about expectations.  You can discuss the boundaries and expectations together and listen to any concerns, questions or input from your child(ren).  They are more likely to get on board with the plan if they feel that they have been a part of developing that plan and they do not feel like it is a punishment.  

Consider that creating habits and routines in childhood will be helpful to them in adulthood.  

Even if they reject it at first, they are likely to return to the familiar habits they learned as a child because, with age, they come to realize that they were important and helpful.  So, while it is challenging, do your best to  keep going!   Putting in the work to teach your child the importance of screen time boundaries may be an important  key to their well-being in the future.  

What has been your biggest challenge in managing your child’s screen time?  Need some support around this?  We are happy to help,  give us a call.   

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