In the bygone days, the only screen time parents had to compete with for their children’s attention was the television. Today, parents are faced with competing with home video game consoles, smartphones, iPad, iPad Touch, laptops, Facebook, Instagram and the Internet. Most likely, your children know how to use all of these.
If you’re concerned that screen time is detrimental for your children, it is. Sleep medicine professor of Harvard University Charles Czeisler mentioned in his journal titled Nature that a person could be deprived of sleep by the artificial light of laptops and smartphones. The artificial light affects a person’s neurotransmitters disrupting their circadian rhythm. This disruption in a person’s circadian rhythm prevents a person’s ability to sleep well.
A study of sixth-grade preteens in 2014 showed that cues of emotions weren’t picked up by these preteens. A group of preteens were shown pictures of 50 faces with different emotions. The preteens had spent an average of four hours each day on screen time. Other preteens spent several days at an outdoor camp with no screen time for five days. The preteens who spent five days at an outdoor camp were able to identify more of the emotions of the pictures, where those who had screen time identified significantly less.
Should parents limit their children’s many modern facets of screen time? They certainly should. But how?
How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
The recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that children less than 18 years of age spend no more than two hours a day on screen time. Toddlers 2 years old and younger should not have any screen time at all.
Years ago, it was far easier for parents to limit screen time. All they had to do was turn off the TV. Today, it is much more difficult to limit screen time. The tablets and cellphones of today are much more portable as well as versatile.
Tips for Limiting Screen Time
• Convince your children sitting less and moving more is better. They will be a healthier weight and also have more energy. Skills such as shooting hoops or riding a bike with friends can be more fun.
• Be a role model. Spend no more than two hours each day on screen time. Your children will follow your rules if you do.
• Chart screen time compared to active time. You can use this screen time chart.
• Make a rule that limits screen time to two hours a day. Enforce the rule as well.
• TVs and computers should not be in your child’s bedroom.
• Talk to each other during meal time. Do not have a TV, computer, tablet, etc. where it can be seen during meals.
• Don’t use screen time as a punishment or reward.
At What Age Should You Get Your Child a Smartphone?
The recommendation of experts is that parent should wait at least until preschool age to purchase a smartphone for their child. According to Dr. Carolyn Jaynes, a designer for learning of Leapfrog Enterprises, at the age of three children are media users capable to benefit from electronic media with educational content.
According to Jeannie Galindo who is the instructional technology supervisor of the Manatee County School District in Florida, when properly supervised a four or five year old is capable of engaging in learning activities using a smartphone or tablet. However, she does not recommend a child use a tablet or smartphone when unsupervised until the ages of 11 to 13.
When getting your child’s first phone, it is best to get a cheap and simple phone. My experience has been that first phones are very often lost or broken at least once. I went with Alcatel Pixi, you can still find it under 100$ - but really, just use common sense. You don’t want to give a brand new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy to a kid. Not only is it too expensive, but your child can become an easy target for thieves. Furthermore, premium phones are rich with functions that are likely to overwhelm and distract your child, so stick to basics.
Family Video Games
There are an abundance of video games appropriate for families. The “E” for Everyone video games are appropriate for all ages.
When parents and teachers are involved, it was found by the Education Development Center that video games can improve the early literacy skills of young children. For instance 4 and 5 year olds showed improvements in sounds association with letters, letter recognition and the understanding of concepts within stories. If preschool teachers integrate educational games and videos from the Ready to Learn Initiative, low-income children are “better prepared for success in kindergarten”.
Teens and tweens can also benefit from educational gameplay. Basic everyday skills are learned and developed with traditional games such as Look at World of Warcraft. From this game, 11 year olds learn to work in teams, delegate responsibility, and direct groups toward a common goal.
Technology has its good and bad aspects. Children miss out on active activities when spending too much screen time. Therefore, parents must strive to limit the amount of screen time spent by their children no matter how difficult it may be. On the other hand, educational video games have a lot to offer children to help them with learning activities. Clearly, it’s up to parents to find the best balance for their children.