Whether it was school, FaceTime with family or video games, the COVID-19 pandemic has included a lot of screen time for our kids. It was one way to safely connect and cope with the pandemic.
But as we emerge from the pandemic, how can parents begin cutting down on the amount of time their kids spend on screens? Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota, gives advice for families and resetting screen time limits.
What’s a good first step to reset screen limit rules for kids?
Screen time recommendation by age
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children ages 2 to 5 should get no more than one hour of high-quality programming.
For kids older than 5 years old, the best way to start figuring out screen time limits for your kids is to talk with them and see where they are at now with screen time. Now that school is out, how much time each day do they think they’re spending on screens? Then take a day and measure their actual use of screens. Let the data drive your next steps.
Making a screen time schedule
After talking with your kids and getting a better understanding of their screen use, families can come up with a schedule for what screen time would be like in order to get closer to the AAP’s recommendation.
Tips for making this schedule:
- A step-wise reduction plan may allow children to accommodate without creating problems with power struggles or behavioral challenges.
- Taking away screen time should not feel like a punishment.
- Summertime can be an easier time to make these transitions away from screens and substitute other activities.
What are the risks of too much screen time?
There are immediate and long-term consequences for kids who have too much screen time. Here are just a few:
- Sleep issues. Young children with more media exposure or who have a TV, computer or mobile device in their bedrooms sleep less and fall asleep later at night.
- Obesity. Heavy screen time during preschool years is linked to weight gain and risk of childhood obesity.
- Delays in learning and social skills. Children who watch too much TV in infancy and preschool years can show delays in attention, thinking, language and social skills.
- Exposure to violence and inappropriate topics. When kids have a lot of screen time, especially unsupervised, they often are exposed to violence and other inappropriate topics which can take a toll on their mental health.
What are the best strategies for reducing screen time?
While many parents may recognize reducing their kids screen time is a good idea, it can be hard to do so. With all of life’s busyness, sometimes it’s just easier letting kids watch a movie on TV, use an iPad to play video games, or watch YouTube on your phone. But, here are five strategies to help you reduce your kids’ screen time:
Replace it with fun.
When you take one thing away, it’s important to replace it with something else that’s enjoyable. Go to the playground, go for a bike ride, play a game, take screens out of playtime.
Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent-child playtimes screen-free and unplugged for children and parents.
Avoid exposure to devices or screens 1 hour before bedtime to prevent sleep disturbance.
Avoid using media as the only way to calm your children.
Parents are the example.
As parents, develop a Family Media Use plan for you and your family to follow. Parents need to model reducing screen time because children do what they see.