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Stuck at Home? Get the Facts on 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.

Research has found that too much screen time can have significant consequences: It can make children less curious, less attentive and can even impact their ability to make friends.

Excess screen time has also been linked to weight gain and obesity in children. That makes sense; 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. Here are some good starting points:

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.

No background TV

The habit of having the television on no matter what you are doing will only add to the problem.

A tech-free zone

Ideally, your child’s bedroom would be a tech-free zone. If possible, avoid putting a computer, video game console or TV there. Requiring children to work on a centrally-located computer (or just moving the laptop or tablet to a common area in the home) 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. Mindless eating that often occurs in front of screens can lead to unnecessary weight gain.

Set screen time schedules, especially for school days

The separates your child’s time into categories and creates a pattern of responsibility. But it can be tough, especially if kids depend on technology to complete their schoolwork.

Common Sense Media is a group that aims to help parents navigate the fast-moving world of technology. They recommend that parents use a “common vocabulary” with their children to communicate clearly and honestly about screen time — and whether it’s for learning or leisure.

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 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.

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