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Screen Time: How much is OK?

Most parents are familiar with the struggle of setting limits on the amount of screen time their children have each day.  With so many gadgets – computers, TVs, smart phones, tablets, video game systems – children have a cornucopia of devices to choose from.  Technology does have its merits and benefits.  Smartboards are in many classrooms and a large amount of homework requires the use of a computer. 

Although unlimited screen time may keep your children quiet, too much screen time is not good for kids.  Several research studies have shown that too much screen time can have a detrimental effect on a child’s health – both mental and physical.  Too much screen time can make it difficult for children to fall asleep at night.  An overabundance of screen time can increase a child’s risk of attention problems, anxiety, and depression.  Time spent on a screen is time not spent being active, raising a child’s risk of gaining too much weight.  TV commercials and other screen ads can lead to unhealthy food choices.  Food ads that are aimed at kids are often high in sugar, salt, or fats.  Additionally, children tend to eat more when they are watching TV.

So how much screen time is too much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines to help parents determine appropriate limits.  Children under the age of two should have no screen time.  For children over the age of two, limit screen time to two hours per day.  Despite what ads may say, videos aimed towards young children do not improve their development.

However, most parents know that setting limits on the amount of television your child watches or how much time your teen spends playing video games is easier said than done!  Here are some tips to help you limit screen time to a healthy, reasonable amount.

  • Model healthy electronics use. Before you binge watch your favorite Netflix series or scroll through your phone every free moment, remember that you are teaching your child bad habits.  Consider limiting your own screen time to two hours per day.
  • Educate yourself on technology. Kids today are tech savvy and often know more than adults about current technology.  Try to stay on top of the newest trending apps and games.  Make it a priority to stay educated so that you can set informed limits for your kids.
  • Create “technology free zones”. Establish zones in your home where you just don’t allow electronics, such as the dining room table or the car.
  • Set aside times to unplug. Set aside times for the whole family to unplug.  For example, the dinner hour or the hour before bedtime can be a great time for the family to spend quality time together without the distraction of technology.  You may even consider a longer “digital detox” for the whole family.
  • Use parental controls. Protect kids from explicit content on TV or online.  Parental controls can also allow you to monitor what your children are viewing on TV or online.
  • Talk to kids about the dangers of too much screen time. Kids who understand, “It is not healthy to watch too much TV,” are less likely to try and break the rules than kids who think, “I can’t watch TV because my parents are mean.”
  • Obtain your child’s passwords. Depending on your child’s age and your values, it may make sense to obtain your child’s passwords to social media or online accounts.  Many children lack the maturity to handle online problems, such as cyberbullying.
  • Encourage other activities. Children can quickly grow dependent on technology for entertainment.  Get your child to play outside, read a book or play a game.  Play with them and try out family game nights!
  • Make screen time a privilege. Screen time should be a privilege and not a right.  Take away privileges, such as computer time, as a negative consequence.  Once you have established a set amount of screen time, don’t allow kids to earn extra screen time as a reward.  Stick to a daily limit and offer other low cost or free rewards.
  • Don’t allow screen media in your child’s bedroom. It’s harder to monitor your child’s screen media use if it is allowed in the bedroom.  Additionally, hand held devices that children use at night can interfere with their sleep.

How do you set limits on screen time in your own home?  Share your good ideas and thoughts below.

Phyllis Dawson, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Athans and Associates

32 Main Street, Park Ridge, IL 60068

About the Author:

Dr. Phyllis Dawson is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is a senior clinician and has been affiliated with the practice for over 17 years. Dr. Dawson earned her doctorate degree in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Dawson has extensive training in the assessment and treatment of individuals across the lifespan. Her treatments are research-based and proved to be effective. Each client’s treatment goals are individualized and discussed in order to be effective.

Dr. Dawson enjoys working with individuals and families. Clinical interests include depression, anxiety, women’s/girls’ issues, attention deficit, trauma, grief, anger, stress management, identity issues, suicide, chronic illness, and parenting.

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