If you have a child between the ages of 0 and 18, you are probably worried about screen time. Whether it be a phone, computer, TV, tablet or video game, we’re all guilty of occasionally (or always) spending too much time consuming media and of letting our children do the same. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 18 months have no screen time, with only one hour per day for children between 2 and 5 years old, and no more than two hours a day for all other kids.
In reality, 29 percent of babies under one are watching TV and videos for an average of 90 minutes a day, children between 2 and 5 average two point two hours per day and 8 to 18 year olds consume more than seven hours a day, according to a campaign for a commercial-free childhood. The dangers of too much screen time range from increased childhood obesity, sleep problems, and learning delays. Like most parents, you are most likely aware of the issues, but not sure how to correct what can be an unwieldy problem. Here are six suggestions for implementing a two-fold solution; reducing use and encouraging alternative activity.
Set a Good Example
This one is easier said that done, but is so incredibly important. From the earliest age, kids are modeling their behavior off of their parents, so the more time you spend looking at your phone, checking email and watching TV, the more you normalize that behavior. If you set limits for your kids, you should also honor those limits when you are with them.
Set Time Limits
To that end, you have to set time limits for your kids. Children are mesmerized by TV and internet videos from the youngest age and it only becomes more tempting the more access they have and the older they get. Set a rule that embraces the AAP guidelines of two hours of screen time a day and then, and this is the important part: enforce the rule.
Schedule Screen-Free Time
Make some spaces and times screen-free. There should be some times and places where all screens are off limits. Making a rule that there will be no screens on during meals (that includes your phone) will give you a chance to talk as a family without the TV or phones as a distraction. Also consider taking all screens out of your children’s bedroom. This will not only help you monitor any internet activity but cut down on their TV viewing time. Kids with TVs in their rooms watch an hour and a half more a day.
Insist on Sharing
Make devices shared devices. To the extent possible, given your child’s age and needs, make things like gaming devices, tablets, computers family property.
Provide Alternative Activities
Screens are such an easy form of entertainment for all of us that we often forget that there are alternatives. Help your kids come up with other options. If the weather is too cold or rainy, suggest an art project or board game. However, if it’s at all possible, encourage your kids to get outside. More than just being away from screens, time outside has very real health benefits for children. Among many other benefits, outdoor play decreases obesity, raises levels of Vitamin D and lowers stress levels.
A Family Affair
As with all things, you are the role model. Active parents are more likely to have active kids. Plan an outdoor family activity for at least one day of every weekend, from going for a bike ride, to hiking, to flying kites, to exploring a local park. Make your backyard an inviting place for kids to play before and after school with sports equipment, outdoor art supplies, or even a trampoline with a safety enclosure that is big enough for the whole family to get in on the fun.
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