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Should You Limit Screen Time for Your Kids?

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In the last six years, the average time kids from ages zero to eight spend on hand-held screens has increased by over nine times – from five minutes per day to 48 minutes. Now, 98 percent of households with children eight and under – of all incomes – have access to a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet.

Due to the overwhelming presence of iPods, iPhones, iPads, and a host of other gadgets in our daily lives, a hot parenting debate has arisen: how much “screen time” should children have, and what are its effects?

Mental health professionals have not yet determined whether screen media use can be a real “addiction,” but research is under way to investigate the relationship between screen time and children’s general well-being. Many major media companies often hire psychologists and other experts to design a user experience (whether it be an app, video game or television show) that makes the consumer want to keep watching, playing or engaging.

When does it become unhealthy?

If your child has developed an unhealthy relationship with their electronic device, you may notice the following:

  • Using technology to escape
  • Lying about how much time is spent on their devices or trying to hide their activity
  • Losing interest in other activities
  • Becoming irritable or anxious when they lose access to their devices
  • Connecting with others primarily virtually and isolating themselves from people in the “real world”

Due to the sedentary nature of interacting online and therefore making the trade-off of physical activity for increased screen time, conditions like obesity and Type 2 diabetes are on the rise. Several studies have investigated the relationship between screen time (mostly television and video games) and obesity, and researchers reported in the Journal of Pediatrics that heavy screen use lead to a 43 percent greater risk of the condition.

Child development is also being impacted. Too much screen time and interaction with the virtual world has the potential to impair a child’s ability to understand expressions, social skills, empathy, concentration level, fine motor skills, communication, problem-solving and more. When kids are in front of screens for too long, they miss out on opportunities to learn real-world, hands-on development skills.

What are the positive aspects?

The effects of screen time aren’t all bad. In an increasingly digital world, technology plays a large role in education and work, and in some cases, young people use it to become more civically engaged. In a study released in Child Development in December 2017, researchers found that limiting screen time was not necessarily linked with positive outcomes in children, concluding and recommending that caregivers and doctors do a cost/benefit analysis before “setting firm limits.”

Ultimately consider these three rules:

  1. Enjoy screens. – Regardless of what career field you hope your child pursues, he or she will need tech skills. Screen devices serve as tools for creation and discovery. Children learn more by playing and engaging, and not just passive watching.
  2. Not too much. – Too much screen time can contribute to poor sleep, obesity and a risk of negative mental, social, and emotional outcomes. Shut down screens well before bedtime and put them away while eating (you too, parents). Make sure your kids get outside to play every day and avoid using screen time as a reward!
  3. Mostly together. – Kids often need help understanding what they see. Ask your children to explain what they see or ask them to enjoy what they’re doing with you.

There’s no one-size-fits-all for screen time, but these tips should help you and your kids to maintain a healthy balance.

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