One of the biggest fears of being a parent is keeping your child safe and healthy. There are so many factors that can contribute to this, with screen time being the most recent topic parents are dealing with. And as a parent of a toddler, I can completely attest for this new-found fear. I’ve seen how my 2 year old daughter reacts to watching TV for too long or holding onto my iPhone for dear life, and it’s scary. So as a writer, I put on my research goggles and dove right in. And the dangers that I discovered with screen time are real…
I think it’s important to start with the basics of issue before we dive into the heavy logistics. There have been conflicting reports on what screen time is, so the easiest way to define it is by saying anything with a screen can contribute to screen time. This includes smartphones, tablets, computers, video games and yes, television. Screen time is the amount of time spent using these devices.
Even when I was a child in the 80’s, the concept of screen time existed. I would watch a good amount of Saturday morning cartoons and some TV at night before going to bed. But not to the extent of worrying about it. And we played video games too – on the good old Atari – although I think my dad played it more than we did. So why wasn’t it an issue back then like it is now?
Because unlike previous generations, our children are growing up on smartphones, tablets and other devices. It’s not just a ‘Saturday morning’ thing. It’s an EVERY MOMENT thing. Kids today spend hours upon hours in front of a screen. It’s replacing the amount of time kids should be playing outside, using their imagination and creating from scratch.
In a nutshell, no. There are so many great educational apps and TV shows that can help your child learn and develop their skills. Being an expat parent, living overseas, we Face time with my parents at least once a week. This time is so important for my two-year old daughter, as it’s the only chance she has to see her grandparents. And it’s considered screen time.
But with everything in life, moderation is the key. The problem arrises when it starts taking over. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that American children spend around seven hours a day on electronic devices. Seven hours. At that point, moderation has been thrown out the door!
So the question that all of us struggle with is, “How much is too much?” How do we balance the modern-day technologies that our children are accustomed to with the dangers they are being exposed to?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
What I discovered with my exploration is that while there is tons of research, the research is mostly ongoing. It’s quite a new concept and it needs to be developed further to have more definitive results. But, there are initial results, nonetheless. Here are a few nuggets that I came across:
The University of Michigan did an in-depth study on the warning signs of screen media addictions, and the signs are there. We just need to be aware and know when to say when! It’s not only about the amount of hours involved, what matters most is whether screen time causes problems in other areas of life or has become an all-consuming activity.
If you start seeing symptoms such as: addiction, loss of interest in other activities, obsession with screen time, anger or lashing out when told no to screen time, sneaking to use screens or using screens to make the child feel better – you should definitely take action.
Most of the talk about screen time is about how it affects kids, but the truth is that it affects us adults too. We’re not exempt from negative results from all our devices. This is why I made the personal choice to not only limit my daughter’s time, but mine as well.
As a writer, I’m on my computer most of the day. Add to that, television at night and social media and I’m a classic case of overusing. And there are times when it shows! I have to deliberately set times to put down all my devices and just ‘be’. When I’m home with my daughter, I purposely put everything away and ignore those trained responses I have when I hear the email ding or a new Whatsapp message. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.
On our recent family vacation to Cyprus, I intentionally made the decision to completely unplug. No email, Instagram or messaging. And it was fantastic! I spent more quality time with my family and less time worrying about my Instagram account. It was an incredible vacation and motivated me to unplug more often.
I am by no means an expert on the issue, and it’s a real struggle my husband and I face on a daily basis. But here are a few tips we’ve decided to implement in our lives to help limit screen time with our toddler.
Kids mimic what they see their parents doing. As much as I try to limit my daughter’s screen time, if she sees me constantly on my phone or computer, I’m negating my point. Lately we’ve made a point of making sure our devices are away, and we don’t run to them each time we get a message. It’s not always 100% possible, but I’ve seen a difference with her since we’ve lessened our screen time too.
Kids love to be outside, playing. Even if they’ve forgotten that they love it. Get them outside to play! Playtime is essential for our children, and unfortunately it’s a concept that’s being challenged, even in the schools. So become an advocate for playtime and get those imaginations rolling again.
There are so many benefits of traveling, even if it’s to a city next to you. Traveling gets you out of your comfort zone and into a new world of experiences. It opens up your senses and helps you make new memories, away from your screen. It teaches your children the importance of learning and experiencing new things.
This is a big one! A lot of people like to keep their phone right next to them on their bedside table, but keeping bedrooms screen-free is a great way to monitor late night screen time. Especially with teenagers.
Setting times where using devices is not allowed is a good way to limit screen time. If you’re not sure on where to start, mealtimes and parent-child play times are a good place to begin. Again, you need to be modeling this rule to your children as well.
Because of the effect screen time has on sleeping, a great rule to put in place is no screen time an hour before bed. We’ve added book time to our nightly routine in order to eliminate any TV time and it’s worked great. Mia knows that after her bath, we are going to read books, so she immediately picks out the books she wants to read after putting on her pajamas.
We all know the stress of temper tantrums. Especially in public. For me, it is the most stressful time of parenting. But it’s also a great learning tool for your child. Trying to calm down your child using screen time could lead to problems with setting limits and affect the child’s ability to self-soothe and regulate emotions. And kids learn really fast what works and what doesn’t work for them.
For me, I find myself worrying about a million things when it comes to my daughter, and the effects of screen time is just a drop in the bucket. I said it earlier in the article, but I’ll say it again. Moderation is the key. Not only when dealing with devices, but with anything in life.
We want the best for our children, and sometimes that includes saying the word, ‘No’. It’s so much easier said than done – don’t I know it! But, in the end, we want to raise little humans who grow up to contribute positively to this world. The amount of technology they are bombarded with isn’t going to change anytime soon. We just need to make sure that we are the ones controlling it. And not letting it control us!
And spend as much quality time with them as we can!