The issue of screen time is one commonly obsessed over by concerned parents, and has been the focus of many psychological studies in the past decade. A largely referred to guideline made known by the American Pediatrics Society is to discourage screen time for children under the age of 2, and to limit screen time to 2 hours a day for older children. Basically, the study puts forth the idea that, when it comes to kids in primary school, the less screen time, the better.
New Issues Call for New Answers
However, in the time since this study was undertaken, there have been significant changes in technology. For example, does ‘screen time’ include Skype, Facetime and other forms of interactive communication? How do we take into account the fact that (for children in higher grades) a lot of time is spent doing research and completing homework assignments on a computer or tablet? In light of the rapid pace at which technology is progressing, the guidelines are currently under review; when re-released, they should hopefully shed light on these questions.
While it’s great news that these contemporary issues are being addressed, there are still so many unanswered questions and that need to be addressed in the interim. As parents, we certainly can’t wait for the results of a study to be published before deciding how to draw lines when it comes to the issue of Screen Time.
What Can You Do in The Meantime?
You need to take an active role in screening the movies and TV shows your child is watching, games they’re playing and Social Media sites they’re plugging into. Technology is at your fingertips, too: simply ‘Google’ the material you want to investigate and you’ll get all the information you could possibly need. Alternatively, check it out yourself, and decide as a parent what you want your child exposed to.
What many experts find themselves agreeing on is that the amount of screen time is not necessarily the most important concern when it comes to children; rather, what are they doing when they aren’t online? To balance the inordinate amount of screens your child is exposed to, you need to encourage your child to engage in other activities during the day. Generally, it is thought that at least 2 hours of ‘high-quality offline time’ needs to be implemented on a daily basis to balance things out. Make sure you are able to offer other activities that stimulate and entertain your children; you need to make sure they have other things to do while the screens are switched off. Note: this doesn’t mean that you are responsible for their entertainment; it simply means that other options need to be available.
A few simple changes can also be made that will help break screen-dependent behaviour in your kids, and help them ‘switch-off’. Make sure the TV is off during mealtimes and before school, and try not to let your kids disappear into their phones or tablets during car journeys (this can be valuable connecting time). Go screen-free in the bedroom (that means your bedroom too!) and encourage other activities before bedtime that will help calm your child and allow for better sleep. Some parents set daily limits according to the child’s age, but ultimately you’ll need to find the guidelines that suit your family.
Be the Example
This is a tough one, but possibly the most crucial. Children (especially younger ones) watch you like a hawk! You are their strongest influence and most crucial role model. If they see you engaged in other activities (and enjoying them) they’ll be more likely to follow suit. Pick up a book, play a game, go for a walk and talk to your kids. If you have a screen addiction, you’ll need to break it in order to lead the way for your family.
There’s no doubt that technology has come a long way in a short space of time, and that there are as many useful, educational and stimulating apps out there as there are mindless and damaging ones. We live in a digital world, and that’s not something we can escape or ignore. We can, however, learn to create a balance in our family. While technology is constantly changing, the essence of parenting is not. Whatever the latest trends, habits and patterns, it is your responsibility to set limits, and to model the behaviour you want your kids to adopt.
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