Jill Christensen, C.N.P.
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How much time does your child spend watching TV or movies, playing with a smartphone or computer, or enjoying video games? Although some screen time can be educational, it's easy to go overboard, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use by children younger than 2 and recommends limiting older children's screen time to no more than one or two hours a day.
Too much screen time can be linked to:
The more TV and video your child watches, the greater his or her risk is of becoming overweight. Having a TV or other electronics in a child's bedroom increases this risk as well. Children can also develop an appetite for junk food promoted in ads, as well as overeat while watching on electronics. Learn more about screen time and body weight.
- Irregular sleep
The more time spent watching on a screen, the more likely children are to have trouble falling asleep or have an irregular sleep schedule. Sleep loss can lead to fatigue and increased snacking.
- Behavioral problems
Elementary students who spend more than two hours a day watching TV, playing video games or using a computer or smartphone are more likely to have emotional, social and attention problems. Also, exposure to video games is linked with an increased possibility of attention problems in children. Read "Are video games and screens another addiction?"
- Impaired academic performance
Elementary students who have TVs or other screens in their bedrooms tend to perform worse on tests than do those who don't have these in their bedrooms.
Too much exposure to violence through media can desensitize children to violence. As a result, children might learn to accept violent behavior as a normal way to solve problems.
- Less time for play
Excessive screen time leaves less time for active, creative play.
Your child's total screen time might be greater than you realized. Start monitoring it, and talk to your child about the importance of sitting less and moving more. Also, explain screen time rules — and the consequences of breaking them.
Consider these five ways slimming screen time is good for your family's health.
In the meantime, here are simple steps to reduce screen time:
- Eliminate background TV.
If the TV is turned on — even if it's just in the background — it's likely to draw your child's attention. If you're not actively watching a show, turn it off.
- Keep TVs, smartphones and computers out of the bedroom.
Children who have electronics in their bedrooms watch more than children who don't have these in their bedrooms. Monitor your child's screen time and the websites he or she is visiting by keeping TVs and computers in a common area in your house.
- Don't eat in front of a screen.
Allowing your child to eat or snack in front of electronic devices increases his or her screen time. The habit also encourages mindless munching, which can lead to weight gain.
When your child has screen time, make it as engaging as possible:
- Plan what your child views.
Instead of flipping through channels, seek quality videos or programming. Consider using parental control settings on your TV and computers. Preview video games and smartphone applications before allowing your child to play with them.
- Watch with your child.
Whenever possible, watch programs together and talk about what you see, such as family values, violence or drug abuse. If you see a junk food ad, explain that just because it's on TV doesn't mean it's good for you.
- Record programs and watch them later.
This will allow you to fast-forward through commercials selling toys, junk food and other products. When watching live programs, use the mute button during commercials.
- Encourage active screen time.
Have your child stretch or do yoga while watching a show. Challenge your family to see who can do the most jumping jacks during a commercial break. Choose video games that encourage physical activity.
It can be difficult to start limiting your child's screen time. However, it's worth the effort. By creating new household rules and steadily making small changes in your child's routine, you can curb screen time and its potential effects.
Register for Slim Your Screen Time — a free at-home, self-guided program designed to help you improve your health by reducing screen time. Join at any time.