Screen Time: How Much Is Too Much?

The title suggests screen time is already a part of your child’s life. The question we’re debating today is how much is too much. In the earlier generation, screen time mainly meant time spent watching Television. We now need to include time children spend on tablets, mobile phones, computers and video games. Screens are everywhere and parents can find it challenging to control their children’s exposure to screen time.  All screen time needn’t be considered bad but there are some guidelines that can help you make the most of it. 

In recent months, with children spending more time at home, screen time could have considerably increased. We also need to understand that online classes can be considered educational screen time, which is interactive and engaging and differs from leisure screen time.  The World Health Organization recommends that children below 5 years spend one hour or less on digital devices and children below 1 year of age spend no time at all watching screens. The explanation is simple “ to grow healthy, children need to sit less, play more”. When it comes to screen time, they recommend “less is more”. As it has been said over and over again, one simply cannot ignore the benefits of real play, which is interactive, social and gadget-free. Even the latest, best and most interactive technology cannot replace physical play. 

Concerns over Screen Time:

Various research has shown that children’s brains develop rapidly in the first two years of life. This is when they need plenty of interaction, engagement and exploration, which is why screen time for children so young is highly discouraged. With toddlers and older children, a major concern of having too much screen time is the sedentary life it encourages. Children glued to screens spend most of that time with little or no movement, time that they should ideally be spending outdoors or playing, or engaging with other people. Studies have shown that too much screen time can also interfere with sleep. Another concerning factor is the behavioural problems screen time can lead to. Spending a lot of time playing video games can lead to attention problems in children, not to forget how some video games can encourage and normalise violence.

Unsupervised screen time can also expose children to unsafe behaviour (such as dangerous stunts), sexual content, negative stereotypes and misleading information. Considering how vulnerable children can be, they can also be easy targets of advertisements, especially aimed to influence their choices. 

Children can very easily get glued to screens, considering screen time as the only option for entertainment or relaxation. It can also rob them of the opportunities to foster creativity, exploration, thinking, imagination and most of all play with other children and learn social skills. 

How to manage screen time?

We know two things are true; one, that screen time is a part of our lives and two, if not monitored, screen time can negatively impact our child's development. So the key to finding a balance to establish certain rules around it.

Set limits: It seems the obvious thing to do, yet can be a challenge for many parents. With younger kids, you might schedule a screen time that works well for your schedule. With older kids, you can discuss timings and limits, that doesn’t interfere with playtime and other activities. It is important that screen time doesn’t replace play or outdoor time. Avoid screen time that’s close to bedtime as it can interfere with sleep. Best to keep screens out of bedrooms.

Turn off gadgets at mealtimes and outings: Screen time should ideally be an option only when there is no other activity involved. Although it might seem entertaining to have the Tele on at dinnertime, this passive screen time can interfere with healthy eating. Instead, as they should be, mealtimes can be an opportunity to connect with your child and as a family. 

Learn about parental controls: They’ve been made for a reason. So use them to supervise and control what content your child is watching. Screen time is less detrimental when children are watching age-appropriate content. Kids can also benefit from screen time when they watch quality content. So take time to review programs, games, apps before you allow your child to use them. 

Open channels of discussion: Screen time can involve advertisements, inappropriate content and a lot of fiction. Young children have a hard time telling the difference between fact and fiction and can be easily influenced by ads. Talk to your children about what they watch to help them understand what is factual information and what is fantasy. With older kids, having an idea of about what they watch can be a window to their world and help you understand their thoughts.

Prioritise playtime: Often, gadgets replace playtime and children are left with little or no time for unstructured activity. So make outdoor or playtime a priority and children can have screen time as part of the free time they’re left with.

Model appropriate screen usage: This can be challenging. As adults, we use phones to get a lot of work done and it can also be a channel for relaxation. However, ensuring that we prioritise physical activity, limit our screen usage and model other ways of relaxation to our children. can be a good influence on our kids. Books, walks in the park, music, playing instruments, board games and simply enjoying the quiet are ideal. 

While it isn’t impossible to eliminate screen time completely, we needn’t go that far to set limits for our children. With the right controls and supervision, screen time can be educational and entertaining. It can also support children’s learning as most children are visual learners. By focussing on more interactive, engaging activities and prioritising play, you can find it easier to limit your child’s screen time. 

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