Margaret Bach, C.N.P.
These days, screens are a part of everyone’s life. With growing evidence showing the negative impacts of screen time on health, your family can improve their health by slimming screen time. Screen time includes television, iPads, computers, phones and gaming devices. While it’s not realistic for families to be completely screen-free, there are health benefits associated with slimming screen time that families should be aware of, including:
- Improved physical health
- Decreased obesity
- Increased time to try new activities
- Improved mood
- Enhanced relationships
The average time spent on screens now is seven to 10 hours. Recommendations for an acceptable amount of screen time include:
- No screen time whatsoever for children under 2
- One hour a day for children 2 to 12
- Two hours a day for teens and adults
If you give a device to a child while they are in the grocery store, then in the car and while making dinner, you may not be aware how fast the minutes can add up. More importantly, how much of that time are you really connecting with your child?
While more research is needed to fully understand the effects screen time levels have on kids, parents are not off the hook. Screen time impacts adults the same as children. Overuse of screen time puts everyone at risk of obesity, is linked with sleep disturbances and can impact relationships.
Additionally, for kids — especially teens — there are studies concerning the negative impacts of screen time as it relates to anxiety, depression and attention span in school.
Limiting screen time to just one or two hours a day may not be realistic, but these five tips can help you slim your screen time:
- Be accountable. Whether it’s an informal agreement with a group of friends, family or through programs, such as the Slim Your Screen Time Challenge sponsored by Mayo Clinic Health System, the goal is to be intentional about reducing screen time.
- Be realistic. If you’re spending a lot of time on screens, start by setting smaller, more attainable goals. Instead of jumping right to the recommended one to two hours or less a day, start by cutting your current screen time in half.
- Go outside. Putting the phone down and taking a walk outdoors increases your endorphins and provides that feeling of happiness in your brain, boosting your mood and improving your physical health.
- Create a phone-free zone. Making family meals a phone-free zone is an easy way to start. An added benefit is that eating meals together as a family has been linked to decreased obesity.
- Co-use devices. Engage with or co-use screens with your kids while playing a game, an app or watching something on a screen. As a parent, you're busy, yet it’s important to take time to interact with your kids when screens are involved.
More than anything, I encourage adults to model appropriate screen time behavior for their kids — disconnect to connect. Quality time with people in your life is important — there’s no app for that.Margaret Bach is a nurse practitioner in Family Medicine in North Mankato, Minnesota.
Learn about the Slim Your Screen Time Challenge.