For many years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has advised parents to give their kids no more than two hours of screen time each day, teenagers included. However, we live in a changing world, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made digital devices absolutely necessary for both educational and social purposes. Technology can actually be an incredibly valuable tool for children’s learning – access to computers and tablets at school and in the home can foster a better education environment, and they’re ultimately vital for children’s productivity. With that being said, they do have their downsides. For that purpose, we’ll be taking a look at Health 101: how much screen time should children really get?
Past Guidelines Don’t Take the Changing World Into Account
Past guidelines have offered very clear outlines on how much screen time kids and teenagers should get. They’ve recommended that children under 2 get no screen time at all, and older children have 2 hours allocated a day. However, new research has offered further insight into the educational aspects of technology, and have been updated to reflect the modern, digital world.
Parents are told to encourage their kids to use devices in moderation, and with strict limitations on the kinds of activities they may use those devices for. Let’s take a look at what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say:
- Technology and media and its pros and cons: Technology has its good and bad sides. Children can benefit dramatically from proper, educational media, but they should avoid inappropriate content. Put precautions and rules in place to ensure that your kids are exposed to the right kind of content.
- Be a good role model: You can’t expect your child to use technology responsibly if you don’t. Your child will want to emulate you, so teach them balance through your actions.
- Enforce rules: Enforce healthy and clear boundaries for technology use. Discuss what kind of content is appropriate and what isn’t, and be open to discussions about what your child wants. Don’t be an authoritarian, and be open to some give and take.
- Get involved: Engage with your child’s online space. Play games with them online, and explore the web. Look for activities you can do together, and maintain positive reinforcement at all times.
- Establish time for life without screens: Turn off your devices during specified periods throughout the day – whether it’s to have dinner together, play a board game, or go for a walk, do things with your kids that don’t involve a screen.
- Be open and respond appropriately to mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes. Rather than punishing your children for engaging with inappropriate content, discuss it with them and turn it into a learning opportunity. Also be aware of age-appropriate content.
- Age-appropriate guidelines: Establish age-appropriate guidelines. Banning your teenagers from using social media isolates them, and will likely just make them resent you (and they’ll do it anyway). Talk about the negative aspects of social media, and keep open communication.
How Technology Can Be a Useful Learning Tool
Covid-19 means that kids are at home and engaging in remote learning. It’s now impossible to limit screen time altogether, and you shouldn’t even try. Technology is a vital tool for learning in the 21st century, and it should be utilized.
There are two kinds of screen time that you should be aware of. Passive screen time, like watching TV, playing video games that don’t require physical activity or problem learning skills, and active screen time, which involves playing games that require real skills or physical activity, and online learning or creating.
Of course, you should try and limit how much passive screen time your child has. However, limiting it altogether isn’t necessarily a good idea. Children need time to unwind too.
Active screen time is great for cognitive development. New research has shown that it can be incredibly beneficial to a child’s growth. A report from JAMA Pediatrics shows that overall screen time has little association with a kid’s school performance, but that not all screen time is equal.
“Findings from this study suggest that each screen-based activity should be analyzed individually for its association with academic performance, particularly television viewing and video game playing, which appeared to be the activities most negatively associated with academic outcomes,” researchers wrote. “Education and public health professionals should consider supervision and reduction to improve the academic performance of children and adolescents exposed to these activities.”
How to Put Realistic Screen Time Boundaries in Place for Your Child
According to the update guidelines from the AAP, you don’t actually have to be too strict about the screen time boundaries for your children. However, you should definitely take into account the kind of activities that they’re engaging in and how they can be beneficial.
Look into what habits you yourself have. Do you watch TV and eat at the same time? Are you on your phone at family events when you should be engaging with your loved ones?
Consider your children’s habits as well. Are they on their devices before/ in bed? Do they stare at their phones at the dinner table?
Consider putting some new boundaries in place. No devices during dinner is a good place to start – even just one or two nights a week. It’s all about building a healthier relationship with technology, not about eliminating it completely. So, when we look at “Health 101: how much screen time should children really get?” there’s no set answer.
Build Screen Time Guidelines According to Your Children
Each child is unique, which means that your screen time boundaries will need to be changed to fit them individually. When we discuss “how much screen time should children really get?” there is definitely no right answer. Unlike previous guidelines, the updated recommendations encourage no set time limit. Rather, discuss with your children about how to have a healthy relationship with technology, and think about your own device habits. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, you just need to find what works.