Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of concerns surrounding how much time we spend in front of screens. From TVs and computers to smartphones and other mobile devices, our screens play a fundamental role in our jobs, our education, and our entertainment. They also are vital for communicating with our friends and loved ones. Yet too much time in front of screens can be both physically and emotionally taxing, so it is important to encourage our children to find a reasonable balance between screen time and physical activity.
What is the Right Balance for Screen Time?
One of the most difficult questions to answer regarding screen time is how much is too much? What is a “reasonable” amount of time to spend in front of a screen? The simple fact is, there is no easy answer to this question. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents place consistent limits on media use (consistency makes it harder to argue against), it also points out that not all screen time is the same. Doing online research for school, chatting with good friends, or watching informative and kid-friendly content is very different from binging your favorite Netflix series and playing Call of Duty with friends all night.
Some people would argue that the key to managing screen time is less about HOW MUCH time someone spends in front of the screen, but HOW they spend that time. That doesn’t mean that every moment that someone spends in front of a screen needs to be educational (after all, everyone needs some time for entertainment), but it does mean that she be mindful of how we spend our time in front of screens, taking note if most of that time is spent productively or if it’s getting in the way of the things you need to get done.
However, the biggest sign that a loved one might be spending too much time in front of screens is to ask yourself if their screen time is getting in the way of the other things they need in life. This includes time for sleeping, eating, exercise, studying, and interacting with family and friends. If they are neglecting one or more of these aspects of their lives, then it might be time to encourage them to better manage their screen time.
Taking Control of Screen Time
If you’re a bit unsure about how to get a handle on your child’s screen time, consider these helpful tips. They can ensure both you and your loved ones are more mindful about how they spend their time.
- Get your kids involved in activities away from their screens. Encourage your kids to get involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. This ensures they are spending their time productively and have less time for non-productive screen time.
- Set aside some time for exercise. If your kids aren’t a part of a sport and don’t have any physical hobbies, it might be a good idea to incorporate an hour of physical activity into your child’s routine. It can be tough to find time to fit exercise into your schedule unless you make it a priority, so try to find a specific time that works and stick to it.
- Create a family media agreement. This is a personal contract signed by family members that outlines safe practices for online behavior, covering how they are expected to deal with computers and other internet-capable devices. Such an agreement sets hard limits on screen time and encourages safe practices.
- Set a “No Screens” period. This includes during meals and at least one hour before going to bed. It possible, make sure that kids keep their phones and other devices out of hand by bedtime, to be better ensure that they get enough sleep.
- Research any video and computer games before letting your kids get them. Keep an eye out for their ESRB ratings (which run from EC for “early childhood” and AO for “adults only), along with if they have online components or in-game purchases.
- Make screen time a family activity. Time spent watching TV/movies, playing games, or going online can also be a chance to bond, talk, and learn together. It also means that you’ll have a better idea of how your children spend their time.
- Teach your children about online safety. Make sure they know the dangers of sharing private information online, cyberbullying, or sexting.
- Set a good example for your kids. If you don’t follow your own rules in terms of screen time and internet usage, your children aren’t going to take them seriously.
Almost everyone needs at least some screen time nowadays, but it must be approached mindfully. By being aware of the potential dangers of too much screen time and taking steps to promote healthier internet usage, you can be certain that your loved ones can find the right balance.