Screen Limits for Kids

Thirty years ago, parents didn’t worry much about screen time. Sure, kids watched TV but video games only entered the modern home in the 1970s and computers about a decade later. With the rise of personal technology and smaller screens, kids can lose track of time staring at a screen for hours on end.

As the amazing parent you are, you know that screen time isn’t good for your kids.

But do you know why that is?

Should you really be fighting with your kids over how much time they spend in front of the TV, on their iPad, or in front of the computer? Let’s take a look at the information and then you can decide.

Negative effects of Screen Time

There is a great deal of interest about the effects of prolonged screen time – by professionals who work with children, by teachers, by parents, and also by children who are out to prove that video games are a good thing.

Studies have shown us that kids who spend extended periods of time on electronic media don’t do as well in school. Their brains don’t develop the same as kids who have limited screen time, more physical activity and human interaction.

In fact, one study suggests that too much screen time at a young age can cause permanent brain damage.

That is terrifying!

Enough to make me fight with my kids every single day to get off their screens and spend more time outside.

As time in front of screens increase, children not only lose their ability to focus and concentrate on regular daily activities, but they also lose touch with reality and the humans in their world.

Their ability to sense other people’s emotions and feelings are impaired. Their communication skills don’t mature and their vocabulary suffers. Kids who spend hours in front of an electronic screen are also at higher risk for behavioural and attention problems.

Spending time away from electronics gives children the chance to develop their creativity which leads to better problem solving skills.

Lastly, our kid’s health is directly affected when they spend too much time sitting down. Lack of physical activity can lead to weight gain and can increase their risk of other health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes.

Screen Time and Sleep

Sleep is also affected by too much screen time. Sleep experts now say that all screens should be avoided at least 2 hours before bedtime – televisions, computers, tablets, and personal phones. There are many reasons for this.

  • The blue light of the screen affects our bodies negatively, making it harder to fall sleep.
  • Hours of screen time every day means not enough physical activity. Physical activity helps us sleep better.
  • Violent games or scary shows can affect children’s sleep, especially young children who can’t properly distinguish between reality and the virtual world.
  • Teenagers with electronics in their bedrooms might be sacrificing sleep to stay connected with their friends on social media.

We all need to be cutting back on our screen time, especially before bed time. Replace your screen time with reading books or playing board games as a family. These kinds of activities stimulate our brain more completely and they don’t have the negative effects of artificial, blue light.

Guidelines for Young Children

Up until two years of age, children should not watch TV or play electronic games at all. Screens provide very little interaction, even if the manufacturers of the game or show tell you otherwise. The stimulation provided by a screen is extremely limited. Our brain is a muscle and if we don’t use it by interacting with our environment, it remains weak.

The research is clear. Young brains don’t develop properly when they are numbed by electronics. Speech is affected, academic abilities are stunted, and so are relationship skills. And these effects are permanent!

The bottom line is no screen time at all for children under the age of two years old. After that, the guidelines suggest that screen time under two hours per day does not negatively affect our children’s brains and relationships.

Obesity Linked to Screen Time

Another fact to know is not only does being indoors reduce children’s physical activity, but being in front of a screen has been shown to increase the amount of calories a child takes in.

We now know that children take in an extra 167 calories per hour of television watching. So not only are their body’s not getting much needed exercise, but their body’s are also suffering from ingesting excess calories, most of which are likely to be unhealthy like the commercials they see.

Our kids need sports and activities far more than they need a new iPad.

Are There Benefits?

Why yes, there are definitely ways our children can benefit from technology. Playing games can help children develop coordination and improve reaction time.

However, screens should never replace human interactions.

We should always strive to speak with our children face to face rather than texting or emailing. Having frequent human contact also reduces the risk your child will be at risk for anxiety and depression, something that is common for kids who spend too much time wrapped up in the virtual world.

Always use electronic devices and TV screens in moderation. Monitor your child’s time and know which programs he watches and the games he plays. Many parents have no idea what their kids are watching and playing!

Two years ago, my 12 and 13 year old sons were being harassed by our 14 year old neighbour. He was showing them pornography on his phone at the community club nearby and laughing about it.

When my boys told me, I went to talk to his Mom about it. She couldn’t believe that her son would do that. But there was absolutely no reason for my boys to make this up. It didn’t surprised me when I saw him smoking drugs during school hours a few months ago. I’m not sure his Mom knew about that either.

This boy had unlimited screen time and a phone given to him long before he was ready to make good decisions on his own.

Unfortunately, his 11 year old sister has the same parents who have given her a phone and turned away. It makes me angry to see parents not taking responsibility for what their children watch and not monitoring their children’s behaviour. It affects everyone.

Recipe for Tool #25:

Ingredients:

  • technology in our modern society,
  • patience to teach moderation,
  • a dedicated parent,
  • a child who enjoys TV and all variations of electronic games.

Step 1 – Monitor Your Usage

Begin by monitoring your usage. Prolonged use of technology doesn’t affect your brain quite the same way it affects your child but it can affect your sleep, your activity level, and your health.

What do you need to change before you attempt to change your children’s habits?

Step 2 – Set Limits

Set clear limits as to how much time children can spend on their computer or tablet and in front of the TV. Talk to them about the dangers of too much screen time and the benefits of other activities. Enforce the limits firmly and consistently.

Step 3 – Decrease Screen Time

Here are some ways to decrease screen time:

  • remove all electronics from your child’s bedroom,
  • insist on no electronics during mealtimes and homework,
  • don’t use the TV for background noise; use the radio,
  • pick ahead of time which TV programs to watch,
  • plan something fun instead of spending time in front of electronics,
  • keep a written record of how much screen time your child has.

Using a TV as a babysitter might not be as common as it used to be, but more and more often, we’re handing our young children tablets or phones to keep them occupied and quiet.

What happened to having conversations with our kids, playing games with them, and going for bike rides? Have we in our world of technology and instant gratification held our children back by allowing them more screen time than is good for them?

By looking at the things kids now struggle with, I’d say yes, technology has become a problem. As parents, we have the opportunity to make a difference. To say “No” to excessive screen time and “Yes” to more outdoor play. Say “No” to movies and TV and “Yes” to reading books and playing games. Turn off the TV, put away the tablets, and take a tech break.

Reacquaint your child and yourself with some good “old fashioned” fun that your brain will love too.

HB

HB is a roller coaster father, one minute he is ecstatic about his children, the next he wonders if life will ever get any better. A long standing member of the 'I yell at my kids' club, he writes with passion and an analytical mind. Dissecting and separating the nuanced strategies that make a good parent great. He experiments with parenting techniques on his 3 year old so you don't have to.

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