This article was published in a local newspaper in February. Since then, screen time has become even more of a concern as parents struggle to find appropriate activities for kids who are home all day, and many kids are attending online school, which increases their screen time by a huge amount! I thought it was a good time to re-share this piece as parents consider what screen time looks like in their households.
Over the past few decades, screens have become an increasingly pervasive part of our lives. Changes in technology have happened so quickly that it is difficult for parents to keep up regarding what is best for their children, especially with emerging research that suggests that young children’s brain development can be affected by screens.
Until recently, many mental health professionals recommended little or no screen time at all. With the way the world is today, this is impossible. Schools use tablets for education purposes, relatives who live out of town want to video chat, and there are times when the “virtual babysitter” makes running errands infinitely easier. Not to mention, eliminating screen time all together can cause children to become fixated and have difficulty self-regulating and moderating when the option becomes available. As kids grow into adults, they need to be able to use screens in order to function. (I could not have written and distributed this article without my computer, after all!)
So how do parents regulate screen time appropriately? As with many things, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Each family has to decide what is best in each unique situation, and there are different factors to consider.
Some parents focus on making screen time educational. They give their kids access to “games” that teach them different skills, like visual-spatial tasks or math. Others reserve screen time for weekends or special occasions. Some see that screen time is their child’s “currency” and let the child earn tablet time like an allowance. Only you can decide what is best for your child.
One thing to keep in mind when deciding when and how much screen time to allow your child is that any screen activity is stimulating. Tablets, televisions, and smart phones emit blue light that makes the brain thing that it is time to be awake, so allowing screen time too close to bed time could make it difficult for your child to fall asleep.
Research has suggested that children can become “screen dependent,” or even “screen addicted.” Signs that your child is dependent on screen time include being fixated on getting screen time, sneaking screen time at inappropriate times, or having difficulty or tantrums when screen time ends. If screen time is a reward for your child, make sure it is not their only reinforcement. Encourage them to take breaks, spend time on preferred activities other than screen time, and get plenty of exercise. Have periodic technology vacations to “detox” from screens.
Even though technology can bring people together from great distances and gives us access to unlimited information, it is not without its difficulties. Parents can help their kids have a healthy relationship with screens!