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The Truth About Screen Time

It’s been an ongoing debate since the first TV made its way to the first living room — how much is too much time in front of a screen? Today’s digital world has made this question more critical than ever. Children have access to multiple devices that, according to research done by the University of California, can even limit their ability to read emotion.

Another concern with screen addiction is a lack of physical activity. Kids playing a video game, watching TV or using social media are not out running and playing. Establishing rules and setting limits put parents in control of screen time and helps kids stay healthier.

The House Rules

One of the most practical ways to reduce screen time is by setting house rules about when and how screens are used by the family. A good rule of thumb is no background TV. The habit of having the television on no matter what you are doing will only add to the problem.

Ideally, your child’s bedroom would be a tech-free zone. Avoid putting a computer, video game console or TV there. Requiring children to work on a centrally-located computer also allows parents more insight on what websites they’re visiting.

Resist the urge to eat in front of the TV or computer. This encourages children of all ages to take a break for meals or snacks instead of reinforcing the screen habit. It also promotes mindless eating that can lead to weight gain.

Set screen time schedules, especially for school days. The separates your child’s time into categories and creates a pattern of responsibility. One hour in front of a screen each day requires children to find other ways to use their time during the week. Help them find activities to get them moving and away from the screen like after school clubs and sports.

Also set limits on how children are using computers. They are effective tools for homework and doing research, but try to minimize their use for surfing the internet or social media.

Screen Time Guidelines

The American Academy of Pediatrics establishes guidelines for kids designed to reduce the risk of screen addiction. This organization recommends that parents limit the entertainment screen time (which includes watching TV, playing video games and socializing on the internet) to two hours a day for kids between the ages of 3 to 18. Younger children should spend no time in front of screens.

For many parents, this prescription may seem harsh, but entertainment time refers to recreational watching only. TVs, computers and video games are still useful for educational purposes and even for exercise.

The goal is not to eliminate this useful technology for your lives, but to use it smartly and create reasonable limits. Spend time co-viewing TV shows with your children and playing with them on the computer to teach your child how to create a “media diet” that is selective and healthy. Screen addiction is linked to childhood obesity, irregular sleep patterns and behavioral issues. Taking control of its use, especially when your kids are young, improves their social skills and puts them on the right path to make healthy lifestyle choices.