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Technology is an integral part of our lives. It touches nearly every aspect. The kids that we raise today will never know a world without screens. Naturally, we start to wonder how screen time for kids can affect their health.
Is there such a thing as too much screen time?
How does exposure to this technology affect our kids' brains?
We've scoured and researched looking for answers to these questions and we put together a list of the facts you should know about kids and screen time.
How Does Screen Time Affect Kids’ Brains?
Screens have invaded our day to day tasks. Even fridges are now equipped with these devices. For children, interaction with digital technology starts nearly at birth. They are surrounded by TVs and given iPads for e-learning.
With all of this exposure, it is important that we explore how screen time affects kids' brains.
The news may not be as grim as you may think. In fact, screen time can promote healthy development in children. The key to healthy screen time is moderating the type of content that children consume.
For example, educational shows that promote critical thinking with a question and answer format can help promote healthy development in children. These types of content encourage imaginative thinking and engage children. With interactive programs, kids aren't passively consuming the content. Instead, their little minds are engaged while using imaginative problem-solving skills.
However, too much screen time can also lead to developmental concerns.
Modern technology provides a type of instant gratification to use. Think about when you receive a notification on your smartphone that lets you know someone just “liked” your photo.
The same kind of instant gratification happens when children are exposed to screen time.
Some studies show that excessive consumption of screen time can lead to various developmental issues. The isolating nature of screen time can hamper the development of social and communication skills. With digital content, kids don't get practice with real social interactions. They miss out on learning how to read important facial and social clues during real conversations. This can lead to trouble with making friends or maintaining social relationships outside of the home.
The instant gratification can also lower kids' abilities to focus and reduce attention spans. When kids get used to endless content at their fingertips, it can set unrealistic expectations. They adjust to being able to have instant content, which can lead to dissatisfaction and irritability when they are forced to wait. Excessive amounts of screen time can lead to difficulties focusing in school later in life.
Consuming content that lacks educational value can also be detrimental to a child's mental development. Empty content does not promote good reading skills or advanced vocabularies. In this case, it may be better to opt for some reading or art time rather than screen time.
What is a Healthy Amount of Screen Time?
Many parents wonder what actually constitutes a “healthy” amount of screen time.
Is it possible that there is such a thing?
Many parents forbid screen time altogether for fear of hampering a child's development. As they grow older, however, it will be nearly impossible to remove screen time from their lives altogether.
Recent studies suggest that children under the age of 18 months should not be exposed to any screen time. They also show that children under the age of 16 months gain no significant learning from educational content on screens. However, they do make one exception; video calls with family can be used to promote bonding among family members that aren't able to visit frequently.
Between the ages of 2 and 5, studies suggest that parents should limit screen time for their kids to only 1 hour per day. Most importantly, they should be filtering content for quality and watching with their children, if possible. A parent present helps the child get even more interaction.
The first three years of a child's life are some of the most critical for development. They essentially set the foundation for all other learning that will happen for the rest of their lives. When choosing content for your toddler, you should focus on educational content that engages their imaginations and creativity.
How to Reduce Kids' Screen Time
Reducing kids' screen time can be challenging. At the end of the long day, the last thing you probably want to have to deal with is a screaming child demanding an iPad. Sometimes, screen time is just easier for everyone.
So there has to be a better way, right?
You can start by setting an example. Kids learn from our behavior. While it may be tempting to answer every email and text message right away, try reducing your own screen time. By setting a good example for your kids, they can learn from your behavior. This may help break the vicious screen time cycle.
You can also set limited viewing times. Try setting established guidelines for when screen time is allowed. Maybe you limit the screen time to certain hours of the day. Or you can try to limit to a certain amount of time per day. Either way, setting clear guidelines can help limit kids' screen time.
You should also monitor your child's behavioral changes. Not all content is designed for healthy consumption by children. If you're noticing that screen time or certain content is causing them to become aggressive or irritable, remove it. This provides you a well-founded reason for removing the screen time from your kid's schedule.
When your child requests more screen time, try providing alternative activities.
Oftentimes, kids turn to screens when they are bored. Providing engaging, alternative activities can be a great way to reduce screen time. If it's a nice day out, suggest a park outing or bike ride. If you'd rather stay inside, offer to:
- Play a game
- Read a book together
- Make hot cocoa or tea together and read your own books
- Create a fun art project
There are many fun alternatives to screen time.
If all else fails, remove the temptation completely. You can eliminate your cable subscription and lock away portable devices. While this may sound harsh, sometimes it takes drastic measures to reduce the desire for screen time. This may be difficult at first. But over time, the whole family will adjust and establish a new norm without screen time.
Is Screen Time Unhealthy for Babies?
Depending on the age of your child, screen time may not be particularly beneficial for your kids. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that screen time is unhealthy.
Some studies show that babies do not benefit from digital educational content. These studies suggest that children under the age of 18 months should not have any screen time. Introducing screens too early can negatively affect developments such as reading skills, short term memory, and language skills.
Anything in excess can be detrimental. Ask yourself why you are providing screen time. If you need baby to entertain themselves so you can work, handing them some plastic bowls and a spoon will provide more enriching engagement. They'll be more mentally stimulated banging that spoon and laughing, looking to you for encouragement. Babies under 18 months simply can't comprehend the bright lights and sounds coming from a screen.
How Long Before Bed Should You Stop Screen Time?
As adults, we understand that screen exposure before bed can affect our sleep quality. The blue light emitted by our digital devices disrupts our natural sleep process. One helpful trick is to turn on a blue light filter if you can.
The same applies to children. Screens can delay and hamper their ability to sleep soundly. High-quality sleep is essential for a healthy, developing child.
So the big question becomes this – how long before bed should screen time stop?
Studies find that our bodies need time to prepare for sleep. This is especially the case when we are constantly being exposed to the blue light from our digital devices. The blue light emitted disrupts our sleep process, shutting down our body's production of melatonin. We owe that sleepy feeling we get just before bed to melatonin.
Without melatonin, our sleep is not as restful and is often shortened.
As a general precaution, screens should be put away at least two hours prior to bedtime. This allows kids time to relax and prepare for bedtime. Not only does this reduce their exposure to the sleep-disrupting blue light, but it also allows them to calm down. Watching exciting or scary content right before bed does not promote a good night's sleep. Try a nighttime routine, like reading a book together or making up your own stories. These will help reduce screen time and create lasting memories.
So here's the big takeaway: Don't feel guilty about the brief pause that screens can provide busy parents. Sometimes screens can provide helpful and educational temporary engagements for kids. Remember, choosing quality content can be more important than micromanaging the minutes of screen time for your kids. If you are worried about how much screen time your children are exposed to, work to limit it. Limiting screen time can be challenging, especially for spirited children. Lead by example and establish clear guidelines and limitations. To ensure a good night's sleep, put away all digital devices at least two hours prior to bed.
So it turns out you've got it all under control, after all. Screen time can be helpful and promote healthy development in children – if it's done in the right way.
Do you have any tried & true tips to reducing screen time? Share your awesome parenting tricks down below!