By Susan Austin:
Screen time can be both helpful and hurtful for kids. While children can be entertained by screen time and may benefit from educational resources, there can be too much of a good thing. Going overboard on screen time can make healthy sleep difficult and interfere with other areas of healthy child development. The key is to manage screen time so children can make the most of it without going too far.
Why Screen Time Can Be Helpful
Children can use screens to communicate, learn, and be entertained. With educational apps, children can learn about math concepts, develop language learning, explore science, and more. Apps may even help support healthy behavior such as healthy eating and exercise. At the same time, kids learn about using technology so they’re better able to use tech tools at school.
Through screens, children can communicate with friends and family even when they’re not at home. Screen time can also offer entertainment, which could help kids relax and give parents a break — which is especially helpful as you’re making dinner, working, or wrapping up chores around the house.
Why Screen Time Isn’t Always Great
But while screen time can be a great resource for children, it’s easy to go overboard. When kids spend too much time engaging with screens, other areas of their lives suffer. Specifically, sleep can be challenged by screen time, and kids may experience behavioral issues and be at risk of becoming overweight if they spend time being sedentary using screens.
Sleep is most easily impacted by screen time. The bright light from screens is confusing for our circadian rhythm, particularly when used at night. Kids who are using screens before bedtime are sending a signal to their brains that it’s bright as day — so it’s no surprise if they have trouble winding down and getting to sleep on time.
Behavior problems can be a major issue with screen time, too. Kids tend to be intensely focused while using screens, and they may be frutstrated and upset when you ask them to stop using them. Over time, children who have excessive sreen time may be more likely to experience issues with bevavior and attention.
How You Can Help Children Manage Screen Time
Screen time should be balanced, offering kids the opportunity to get the benefits of using screens, but avoiding the sleep, behavior, and health issues that can come along with it. Generally, you’ll want to set clear limits so kids know when it is and isn’t acceptable to engage in screen time.
- Set a timer. Consider how much screen time you want your children to have each day or over the course of a week, and let them know up front how much time they have so they can decide how they want to use it. Guidelines vary, but generally, kids should have no more than four hours of screen time daily. It’s a good idea to consult your child’s pediatrician on suggestions for their age.
- Limit specific times. Some times of day are better than others for screen time. Right before bed is a problem for sleeping. Other common problem times are early in the morning, when they might be tempted to just play video games all day. Make sure children know when it’s fine to use screens, and when they need to take a break.
- Encourage quality screen time. Not all screen time is equal in quality. Watching silly videos or going on social media isn’t as fulfilling as watching an educational program or playing learning apps.
- Give kids a dedicated space for screen time. With mobile devices, screen time can happen anywhere. But access to screens should be well supervised, so it’s a good idea to set up a kids study area where kids know it’s the best place for them to learn and use screens — ideally well within view so you can check in now and then.
Screen time can be both good and bad, but when managed well, can offer excellent benefits for children as they learn and navigate technology. Consider setting limits, but allow children to explore as they engage with screens.
Susan Austin is a family research specialist with Family Living Today. A mother of three and small business owner in Texas, Austin spends her days juggling work and family life — sometimes expertly, sometimes not.