Almost every American is guilty of spending too much time in front of screens. From smartphones and tablets to computers and TVs, we thrive on digital access and entertainment. It’s affecting all of us, but it’s our children who are most susceptible to the long-term ill-effects of excessive screen time. What, if anything, are you doing about it?
The Dangers of Excessive Screen Time
Entire white papers, research studies, and books have been written on the dangers of excessive screen time for children and how it’s impacting their physical health, mental well-being, and relational skills. So while we can’t possibly touch on all of the effects in this article, here are a few to be aware of:
- According to this study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, sixth-graders who went five days without being exposed to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than children who had regular access to TV, phones, and computers. This indicates that screen time may be inhibiting your child’s ability to recognize emotions and connect with people on an intimate level.
- Research shows that elementary school-aged children who use a computer or watch TV for more than two hours per day are more likely to have social, emotional, and attention problems. It’s also been linked to an increase in bullying behavior.
- Using TV to wind down before bed – or any screen time for that matter – has been shown to influence the sleep cycle, prevent deep sleep, and even cause insomnia in some children.
Any way you slice it, screen time isn’t doing your children any favors. The only way to give your kids the best chance at healthy childhood development is to limit their exposure to smartphones, tablets, TVs, and video games.
3 Ways to Limit Your Child’s Screen Time
Limiting a child’s screen time is a sensitive topic that many parents are intimidated to broach, but the following tips should help you formulate a plan:
Use Technology Well
For many families, it’s not practical to totally eliminate all screen time. (And in our modern society, this probably isn’t wise to begin with.) The key is to use technology well. Instead of letting kids mindlessly use social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat, encourage them to use apps like Mappen. As Forbes contributor Serenity Gibbons explains, “Mappen encourages teens to spend time with friends by showing them on a map where their friends are and what they’re doing via emoji status updates.” Compromises like this allow you to train your children on how to bridge the divide between real life and virtual life.
Keep Technology in Communal Spaces
The worst thing you can do is permit children to squirrel away in a bedroom or basement and stick their nose in a screen. This leads to isolation and makes it easy for them to foster irresponsible behavior. Instead, require that technology be used in communal spaces like the living room or kitchen. This lets you observe what they’re doing and how often they’re using technology.
Make Screen Time a Privilege
Clear rules must be set on how much screen time is allowed. And you shouldn’t let screen time become a right. It’s a privilege that needs to be earned. Establish age-appropriate chores and responsibilities for your children and make them work for 15-minute blocks of screen time.
When children are forced to work for their screen time, they’re less likely to abuse it or see it as an inalienable right that they have in your home. It also helps you cultivate work ethic in them.
Be Okay With Being Different
Here’s the thing – you can be purposeful about limiting screen time from the time your child is an infant until they leave your home and enter the real world – but you’ll always be up against other parents. The majority of parents will have little or no rules regarding what their kids can watch, which video games they can play, and how much time they can spend on the internet. And your kids, being eternal seekers of justice (eye roll), will want you to be fair and let them do the same things that their friends are doing. You have to be firm about saying no.
It’s okay to be countercultural. While we live in a society where everyone wants to appease children and let them explore who they are and become anything they want to be; you have to be fine with setting rules and enforcing them – especially when you know that they’re for the betterment of your children. It might not make you cool, but you’re not supposed to be your child’s friend anyway. There’s time for that when they’re healthy, functioning adults. And guess what robs them of the opportunity to enjoy a healthy and functioning adulthood? You guessed it – excessive screen time.