Families can’t go anywhere without being exposed to screens. Kids can watch TV while waiting to see a doctor or dentist, there are screens in the majority of school classrooms, even some shopping carts have screens! With the constant barrage of screens, parents are left wondering how screens can be useful and educational and when enough is enough. There is no denying that media can be educational. There are numerous television programs, apps, and digital games that encourage kids to read, spell, do math, and learn a variety of facts. The trick is to find the right balance for your family. Here are some guidelines to help your family make the right choice for you.
There is such a thing as too much. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time per day, which includes television, movies, video games, and anything done on a smartphone. When children regularly spend more than 2 hours in front of a screen, it can increase the risk of obesity because the more time children watch screens the less time they are playing and being creative. Too much screen time can interfere with quality sleep, and it can expose children to violence and material more mature than their age. Too much time in front of screens can also make it harder for children to regulate their emotions and mood. Finally, children who have screens in their bedrooms tend to perform worse on academic tests as compared to children who do not have screens in their bedrooms. Screens in bedrooms also decrease time spent as a family.
Before panic sets in, there are simple ways to limit your family’s screen time. Make it a priority to have family meals with screens off. Not only does this reduce the total amount of screen time, but it also helps build strong family bonds. Enforce a strict “no screens in the bedrooms” rule. Without a screen to distract them, children can use their bedrooms to play with toys, do crafts, and read books. Similarly, enforcing “no screens in the car” is another great way to cut down on time spent starting at a screen. Many families tend to have the television on all the time, and simply turning it off when not in use can greatly reduce exposure to screens.
Remember, not all screen time is bad. Families who report the greatest satisfaction with their screen time are those that reserve it as something special rather than something that gets used constantly. Family movie night is a great way to spend time together while everyone playing games on their individual phones or tablets gets in the way of family time. Spending time video chatting with loved ones who live far away is very rewarding for everyone involved while playing online games with others interferes with family time. Reading online books can be very educational and participating in exercise videos is good for overall health, but watching silly cartoons is not.
Once you’ve settled on how your family will use screen time, a conversation about safety and good digital citizenship is a must. It is recommended that elementary age children shouldn’t be using social media or chatting with strangers online. Older children who use social media must understand that they leave a digital footprint with every press of a button. Teaching children how to be kind, respectful, and safe online is necessary if screen time is going to be a positive experience for your family. On that note, and going back to recommendations, children shouldn’t be left on their own to surf social media sites and keeping screens out of bedrooms is an effective way to accomplish that goal.
Like most things in life, screen time should be a balance. Sit down as a family and come up with your media rules. Set a time limit and carefully enforce what everyone is allowed to do when in front of a screen. You’ll likely find that your kids are happier and more creative once they adapt to the new rules and find other things to do. You’ll find that your family spends more quality time together and truly enjoys that bonding time over anything done or seen on a screen.
Sara Ipatenco is an award-winning 1st-grade teacher at a private school in the Rocky Mountains. She loves to write, read, sew, and travel. She spends most of her time away from the classroom with her husband, two children, and their dog named Oreo. They love taking long walks, watching movies, and playing board games together.