Kids and Screen Time: How Much is Enough?
Updated: Dec 10, 2018
It is the battle of the millennium thus far, children, technology, and the screen police a.k.a. parents. While technology has exploded in the last few generations, parents and educators have struggled to incorporate the ever-growing media outlets in a healthy manner for children. The technology has developed much faster than parents can adapt, and screen addiction has become somewhat of an epidemic. It has become one of the hottest topics amongst parents today, how much is too much screen time?
The modern parent is in a unique situation; unlike the generation before us, we have grown up with television, video games, and the internet becoming more and more relevant. Now that we have grown and become parents ourselves, we have an opportunity of setting a precedent for many generations to come. However, there are no clear lines on what kind of regulations or parenting methods will help children develop best. This creates a bit of a guessing game while using what research is available to us to help dictate which, or if any, limitations should be set on youth and screen time.
While there are some products that could help you track devices and screen time, we will primarily dive into what it takes to keep track of this on your own.
There are two extremes to thoughts on children and technology, no screens at all, or as much as they can handle. The majority of us fall somewhere in the middle, realizing that both extremes can be unhealthy in their individual way. Creating a routine in the home and teaching children that technology should be utilized for a purpose is the goal. Maintaining a healthy balance is essential. Finding that balance is where the struggle starts and where each parent differs.
First, we should look at some of the benefits associated with technology and screen time. There is the obvious convenience that any parent can point out, that a child occupied by television or a tablet is a child not bothering mom and dad. The opportunity to get work done or relax for a moment can be essential for the stressful job of parenting. There are some other advantages though, like allowing your child the chance to advance their knowledge and develop fluency with computers that may become a necessity in the new world.
There are social advantages to children becoming well-versed in media and technology as well. Today's society has become extremely based on the internet. Current events, information, and entertainment are all sourced online. Those without access to these media outlets are now becoming more sheltered than those who source their news and entertainment elsewhere. Before technology became commonplace, children would gain stories and conversations from what events and situations were around them. Children today have access to more knowledge than ever, leaving those without these resources struggling to keep up with their peers.
One of the main reasons for those that advocate against children's screen time is associated with health concerns. There is still much research being put into the long-term impact of extended screen time, but new information continues to appear. The most recent problem attributed to screens is called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) which can cause extreme discomfort. Symptoms of CVS include headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck and shoulder pain. There is also a rise in nearsightedness that researchers associate with too much screens and not enough sunlight. Though these health issues are concerning, they can also be associated with poor posture and improper viewing distances.
The most significant issue parents seem to have with the screens is creating a life-long addiction. Experts are now calling tech devices a "digital drug" and science is backing their claims. When a child wins a video game, the body releases dopamine into the brain triggering a "feel good" response. These high levels of dopamine can become as addictive as inhaling nicotine, and dopamine is known to affect the brain in the same way as cocaine, which can result in erratic or compulsive behaviors. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to dictate where the line is between healthy tech engagement and addiction.
There is also a concern on mitigating screen time based on the child's age. While teenagers and adolescents have much to gain from utilizing technology, research suggests that children under five are learning a limited amount. Infants and toddlers do not absorb much from watching television, it will hold their attention and they will begin to imitate specific actions, but it ends there. Researchers believe that children two and under have difficulty associating 2D images from the screen with the real-world and therefore are unlikely to gain anything from television. Young children learn from face-to-face interaction above anything else.
There are also social risks to lots of exposure to technology, and many of them can be found in everyday life. Even for adults, the interaction between the community has dissipated since the rise of the internet. For children, the situation may be worse. Studies have found that children who have spent time isolated from television, video games and screens are significantly better at discerning non-verbal emotional cues than those who were not deprived of the technology. Face-to-face communication remains the only method of developing essential socialization skills.
So, the majority of parents can agree that there are advantages and disadvantages to screen time and that a healthy balance is critical. However, there are no magic numbers to tell us exactly how much or how little technology should be playing a part in our children's lives. The decision is left to individual parents to dictate for each unique child. As with most anything, some children have the ability to be more responsible than others. Every child is different, and it comes down to what you as the parent believes is best for your them.
Creating realistic solutions to your child's screen time can be a difficult task unto itself. Almost every parent has come across at one point or another, the dreaded temper-tantrum over the screen. Even if you are not a parent, these explosions can be witnessed almost anywhere these days when a child's screen is confiscated. Usually triggered by asking the child to take a break, the fight over screen time can turn your home into a war zone. To avoid these dramatic overreactions, there are some methods to help create boundaries and create a working routine.
No matter what you have decided on when it comes to screen time, it is invaluable to share these limits with your child. Whether you say 1-hour or 4-hours of screen time per day, your child should know there is no deviation. Visual resources can be helpful, marking a clock or creating a chart will allow the child to understand the rules better. Also, explaining at which time of the day that it is okay to use the screen will help to create a regular routine.
Added to the important screen time schedule is prioritization. Teaching kids that technology is saved for when the day's responsibilities are over will help in long-term development. Expressing that there should be no screen time until homework is done, during dinner, or before bedtime, will help foster a lifetime of making responsible decisions. There should be limitations for where a screen can be used and creating social spaces in the home that is technology-free. I should also mention, that half-an-hour to an hour away from the screen before bedtime will help your child to sleep better.
It is most essential to enforce the rules and not create any hypocrisy. When rules are broken, or limits excessed there should be consequences. This can be challenging but will be easier if you practice what you preach. If children can see that their parents have a healthy control over their own screen time, there will be fewer arguments and the family can cooperate on an even field. Each time a screen is turned on there should be a purpose and parents can teach that by limiting their usage.
It is important for parents to remember that their children are victims of circumstance and their love for technology is entirely reasonable. Majority of children will want to access as much screen time as they possibly can, and it does not automatically mean that they have an addiction. Whatever you decide on for your child's screen time privileges, be consistent and know that you are trying to make the best decision you can.
As parents, we have a responsibility to teach youth how to manage their time and utilize technology for its purpose correctly. By the time our children are raising the next generation, there will be screens everywhere- there already is. Practicing a healthy balance as they grow up will give our children the ability to develop into responsible parents of their own. As the first generation that has grown up with the internet and the many technological advancements, we have the chance to share our personal experience with those that our parents gave us to help dictate the generations to come.