Should I Rethink My Child’s Screen Time?

kids watching computer

children watching tv

Get a full night of sleep. Read a book cover to cover. Fly from Omaha to Hawaii. Play entire games of basketball, soccer, volleyball, and football back to back.

These are just a few of the things you can accomplish in nine hours. Unfortunately, some kids spend that much time in front of a screen, instead. Screen time has taken over many kids’ lives, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has increased due to online schooling, virtual hangouts, and extra time at home.

One study found that, since the beginning of lockdowns, nearly 50% of children have spent over 6 hours a day online — an increase of almost 500% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Too much screen time can be damaging to your child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Whether you began rethinking your child’s screen time long before the pandemic, or you’re recently reexamining it, now is a good time to make sure your child is spending a healthy amount of time in front of a screen.

Screen Time and How it May Impact Your Child’s Health

The main problem with screen time is that it’s a sedentary activity. Whether your child is watching morning cartoons or playing on their tablet, they’re not being physically active while glued to a screen — but physical activity is a critical part of your child’s physical and emotional health.

Additionally, even with the use of parental controls to monitor and guide what content your child engages with (a practice many experts recommend), you may not be aware of every little thing they view. In fact, one survey of more than 3,000 parents found that 30% of children are now spending over 4 hours a day online unsupervised.

As a result, they may be exposed to concerning content like violence, negative stereotypes, inaccurate information, or cyberbullies.

Finally, staring at a screen for hours on end can put strain on your child’s eyes and lead to vision problems, especially myopia (nearsightedness).

Too much screen time can lead to:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Weight problems or obesity
  • Poor self-image
  • Lowered grades in school
  • Vision problems

Excessive time spent in front of a screen also takes away from activities like spending time with family, reading, or playing outside — all essential parts of a healthy childhood.

But, Isn’t Some Screen Time Good?

Too much screen time is undoubtedly harmful, but there’s a catch. Some screen time — especially during a pandemic — is not only important but also necessary.

For instance, some children are participating in online schooling or tutoring. Due to COVID-19, home computers, laptops, and tablets suddenly became virtual classrooms, and lessons have been delivered through a screen for hours each day.

Social distancing has also made video chatting a useful tool to stay connected. Play dates, visits with grandparents, and even birthday celebrations have taken place through a screen, allowing children to feel less isolated during the pandemic.

Even in non-pandemic times, some screen time is inevitable and even beneficial. Computers have long been helpful for schoolwork, and plenty of TV shows are intended to be educational for children.

So, How Much Screen Time Should I Allow For My Child?

Much like many parenting decisions, determining a screen time limit is complex. What is certain, however, is that a limit provides structure and consistency — both of which are important to helping your child learn and grow.

Most experts agree that children under 2 years old should not have screen time (except for video chatting along with an adult), and children over 2 years old should be limited to 1 to 2 hours a day.

Keep in mind — every child, family, year, and even day is different. For instance, you may want to allow a little more non-educational screen time on weekends. Or, you may notice that your child seems reliant on screens and want to dial back a bit more.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, restricting screen time may be especially challenging for many families due to working parents, homeschooling, and social distancing.

Consider the entire picture, and determine what makes sense for your situation. Talk to your child about their screen time limit, and explain why sticking to it is good for their well-being. Then, remember to be flexible, and recognize when minor adjustments need to be made.

Managing Screen Time — and Maintaining a Balance

Pandemic or not, cutting down on screen time can be tough. Beyond setting a defined limit, you can take other steps to reduce screen time and its impacts, such as:

  • Turning off screens during family meals
  • Avoiding using screens to stop tantrums
  • Prioritizing quality content, like educational programs or a live camera at a local zoo
  • Shutting off screens 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime — and keeping screens out of bedrooms
  • Being a role model, and limiting your own screen time
  • Understanding and utilizing parental controls
  • Talking to your child about online safety
  • Encouraging your child to follow the 20-20-20 rule to preserve their vision (every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds)

Remember — screen time has drawbacks, but it’s not the enemy. Some screen time helps children learn, build creativity, and stay connected with loved ones.

As with many things in life, balance is key. If your child spends an hour in front of the TV, make sure they play outside or read a book afterward. And if you need support navigating your child’s screen time, reach out to their pediatrician.

Healthy screen use is possible, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. With proper guidance, communication, and consistency, your child can learn to reap the benefits of screens without letting them control their lives.

Are you concerned about managing your child’s screen time? Reach out to their pediatrician for helpful resources and support.

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