Plus 6 tips on how to do just that
We live in a digital age, and there’s plenty to like about that. Easily depositing cheques by phone, researching school projects, keeping tabs on hockey playoff games while at your kid’s fiddle recital – all good stuff.
But being attached to our technology also comes with consequences, many of which are magnified further when involving kids and their developing brains. Just saying no to screen time and devices isn’t really an option anymore, however there are things that can be done to limit their impact on our daily lives.
Following are some of the reasons why we need to think about limiting our kids’ screen time and some ways to keep its use healthy and manageable.
5 reasons to decrease screen time
- It's unhealthy behavior
Unless you are watching YouTube on your stationary bike or jumping around to Just Dance, technology time is usually pretty darn sedentary. This, of course, links to lower fitness levels and, essentially, sloth, which is okay if you’re an actual sloth but not so great for the rest of us.
- It throws our brains off track
Research has shown that children do better academically when they spend less time on screens because it affects certain brain function. Memorization, problem-solving, processing non-verbal cues all improve when there is less screen time. Not only that, with increased time staring at screens the brain is increasingly overstimulated, which can result in difficulty with focus and memory work.
- It affects sleep patterns
As parents we all know how important it is that kids get enough sleep. Studies have linked heavy computer and smartphone use to increased sleeping issues. Blue light emitted from digital devices suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, and this can keep all of us, not just kids, from having restful sleep and enough of it.
- Excessive screen time inhibits communication skills
Those who spend more time online, especially young people, are more likely to have problems with communication. Partly because of the aforementioned lack of awareness of verbal cues, but also because the skills just don’t get as much occasion to develop. Learning how to interact face-to-face takes time, effort and opportunity. And let’s face it, zoning in on a device is anti-social.
- It can lead to other physical issues
Poor posture, carpal tunnel, sore neck, eye strain and other repetitive movement issues are all the result of too much time staring at devices.
6 tips to help keep screen time under control
- Walk the walk and model good behaviour: Be a good role model. What this again!? Yes, if you want your kids to behave properly with screens, set a good example. I’m not saying you must delete Facebook from your phone (though that’s not necessarily a bad idea) but avoid scrolling through your phone at every opportunity.
- Come up with “tech-free zones”: The kitchen table, bedrooms and bathrooms are all good places to start. These areas should be reserved for established routines and family time.
- Set up time limits and “unplug” hours: Do you know how much time your kids look at screens every day? You should. And then you should come up with a limit. Depending on the age of your child, it can range from none at all to two hours, so do a little research. Dinner time or an hour before bed are good times to turn off the screens for the whole family. Not only will it improve sleep and quality time, but it also shows your kids aren’t being singled out.
- Use parental controls: Parental controls help to keep kids from seeing explicit content online and on TV. They can also be used to monitor what your children are viewing or doing online.
- Encourage other activities: Kids like devices because it gives them something to do, and parents often like it for the same reason. But what about other activities such as reading, drawing or music? Board games and puzzles are just as involving as technology.
- Let your kids know why you are concerned: Share why screen time can be a problem. Let them know that there are health issues and other dangers of being online or staring at a screen too much. Explain that violent video games, movies and images can be harmful to kids.
Remember parents, screen time is not a right, it’s a privilege.
Establish some good guidelines and your kids will be healthier and happier for it . . . well, maybe not so happy at first, but they’ll adjust. And so will you.