There is no denying that putting in a DVD or offering a game on a smart phone can provide a convenient distraction for a child while his parents are caring for younger siblings or taking a much needed moment for themselves. While this may be true, it is important for parents to recognize that entertainment media is everywhere and, without proper monitoring, children are easily bombarded. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, today’s children average seven hours a day of screen time; any time spent on entertainment media including televisions, computers, smart phones and tablet computers.
Although some screen time can be educational, too much of it may have a negative effect on a child’s development and overall well-being. An excess amount of screen time can increase the risk of:
- Inconsistent Sleep – The more screen time a child has, the more likely he will be to have trouble falling asleep or maintaining a regular sleep schedule. This risk is increased if a child watches TV before bed or a TV is kept in the child’s bedroom.
- Obesity – Children who watch TV are exposed to commercials for junk food, fast food and soda and are more likely to crave foods high in fat and sugar. Children who spend excessive amounts of time in front of a screen are also less likely to be active.
- Problems with Behavior and Attention – Excessive media use can lead to difficulties in school, attention problems, hyperactivity and behavioral issues.
While parents have little control over the amount of entertainment media that is readily available, they can make an impact on their child’s exposure. Here are a few tips to help regulate screen time:
- Children under the age of 2 should have no screen time – The first two years of life are a time of rapid brain development. Children learn best at this critical time by interacting with others, playing and exploring. Time away from a screen encourages healthy physical and social development.
- Reduce screen time to only 2 hours a day – This doesn’t only refer to TV, but includes all electronic devices. Having activities on hand like coloring books, puzzles and craft supplies can help ease the transition if it seems difficult. Reserving special family time to go for a walk or play a board game together will help encourage interaction.
- Create a “Screen Free” Zone in the Home – Designate a room or two in the house that is free of a TV, computer and electronic devices. Similarly, “Screen Free” times can be mandated at appropriate hours, like during dinner or before bedtime.
- Remove Screens from a Child’s Bedroom – Having a TV or computer in the bedroom may create an unhealthy habit of falling asleep to the TV or background noise, which may disrupt a child’s sleep cycle.
- Do Not Leave the TV on as Background Noise – Even if the TV is on while other activities are happening, it can be distracting and enticing for a child. Listen to the radio or designate quiet time with no background noise.
- Be a good role model – Parents should lead by example and limit their time spent in front of the TV, on the computer or using a smart phone or tablet. Family time should be seen as a priority over entertainment media.
Reserving more time for family interaction and offering activities that encourage creativity and socialization will help to establish the ground rules for screen time regulation and promote a child’s healthy development.
Share some activities you use to engage your child and limit screen time.
Sara Peronto is the Marketing Manager at Penfield Children’s Center and Editor of PenfieldBuildingBlocks.org.
Amy Bontempo is the Manager of Family and Community Engagement at Penfield Children’s Center. She supervises the Community Outreach Educator, Volunteer Coordinator, Parent Mentor Program, and Family Programs of which Penfield host over 60 per year. She has served on the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association (DSAW) of Wisconsin since 2011 and previously served on the Volunteer Respite Committee for Children’s Service Society now part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, and the Family Resource Connection of Milwaukee Co.
“Children and TV: Limiting Your Child’s Screen Time.” Mayo Clinic. 10 April 2014. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/childrens-health/in-depth/children-and-tv/art-20047952>.
“Media and Children.” American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. 11 April 2014. <http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/pages/media-and-children.aspx>.
“Screen Time and Children.” Medline Plus. Medline Plus Encyclopedia. 1 July 2011. Web. 10 April 2014. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000355.htm>.