CINCINNATI — Increased use of smart phones, personal tablets and gaming systems has redefined the age-old battle parents face over how much screen time their children consume each day.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most American kids spend an average of three hours a day watching television, however, that number jumps up to seven hours when time spent on other electronic devices is added in. That’s more than double the amount the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended when it recently released guidelines that said children should have no more than two hours each day of screen time.
Screen time is the amount of time a child spends watching television, playing video games, and utilizing computers, tablets or any other electronic media devices. The amount of screen time a child consumes each day is a health concern that parents need to take seriously, said Aleda Johnson, MD, a family physician at Liberty Family Medicine.
“Studies have shown an association between screen time and childhood obesity,” said Dr. Johnson, who practices with Premier HealthNet in Liberty Township. “There are several reasons for this. One, television viewing exposes them to commercials for food that may not be healthy for them. Second, children are more prone to snack while they are watching screens. And lastly, screen time is a sedentary activity.”
The NIH said screen time can also make it hard for children to fall asleep at night and can raise a child’s risk of attention problems and anxiety and depression. A study released by researchers at UCLA last year said that children are losing the ability to read other’s emotions as a result of increased screen time and decreased one-on-one interaction.
“When you are sitting in front of a screen you are not necessarily interacting and that could make a child more afraid to communicate with others,” Dr. Johnson said. “Sitting in front of a screen also inhibits a child’s creativity and can affect their ability to learn self-control and patience.”
It’s never too late for parents to adjust their child’s use of screens. The following steps can help make it happen:
Set limits – Children need to understand what their limit is for screen time and be educated as to why it is important, Dr. Johnson said. Children under the age of 2 should have no screen time. Older children should have no more than 2 hours a day. Gradually cut back a child’s screen time until you have reduced it to the right amount.
Create boundaries – The mobility of certain screens such as smart phones and tablets make it easy for kids to wander off in the home, creating unsupervised use. Limit the rooms in which screens can be used. Never allow children to have their own television in their bedroom, Dr. Johnson said.
Limit exposure – Consider recording shows before viewing so commercials can be bypassed and the amount of time in front of the screen can be reduced.
Turn off the tube – Be deliberate about when a television is turned on and off. Do not leave a television on as background noise while doing another activity and turn it off during family meals.
Champion physical activity – Encourage your children to participate in sports or other physical activities. Dr. Johnson said children involved in sports tend to have less screen time than those who don’t.
Don’t reward – It can be easy for parents to use screen time as a reward for good behavior. Screen time should never been seen as special, Dr. Johnson said. Children should not be given extra screen time for making a good grade or accomplishing a task.
Be a good model – The most effective step a parent can make is to engage in less screen time themselves. Parents should watch no more than two hours a day and be mindful of how often they are on their other electronic devices.
“I am a parent and I know what a challenge this can be, but we have to offer other alternatives and believe, that in the long-run, it will be more enjoyable for our kids,” Dr. Johnson said. “It’s a battle, but it’s definitely one worth fighting.”