Although technology can certainly make our lives easier, we are learning more about its downside. The overuse of passive screen time has been linked to childhood obesity, sleep disturbances, mood disorders, and increased attention deficits. Studies have also shown delayed cognitive development in the areas of creativity, communication, and social skills when children are exposed too early and too long to electronic devices.
The American Academy of Pediatricians originally established recommendations for the amount of time children spend in front of screens and then revised the guidelines to consider the quality of the media and whether it requires passive or constructive use. Television, movies, and some video games are passive. Sesame Street is considered an active educational medium, and activities like coding, making music, learning a skill, and creating videos are constructive. Professionals now encourage a healthy, balanced relationship with digital technology.
What Can Parents Do to Support the Healthy Use of Technology at Home?
- Monitor the quality of programming your child is consuming. Common Sense Media helps parents make informed decisions. When you can, watch with your kids so you can clarify, explain, and educate them about what they are viewing.
- Use parental controls to block inappropriate content and eliminate advertising on apps. Some apps can control the length of time a child uses a program or device allowing you to avoid “turning off the screen” battles with your children.
- Model smart screen use for your children. Set aside times to put away devices so family members can talk and play with each other uninterrupted. Keep family meals screen-free.
- Keep televisions and devices out of bedrooms. Charge cell phones, tablets and laptops in the kitchen or family room.
- Use analog materials as well as digital. Share physical books (and reading time) with your children as well as paper and pencil activities, which encourage greater creativity.
- Come up with a “Family Media Plan” (American Academy of Pediatrics) for each member of the family. Talk with your kids about why you are limiting screen time and the types of screen usage you approve of. Children are less likely to object if they have a part in developing the family media plan. Some families cut out screens entirely during the week and find that their children read, play with construction toys and engage in creative activities—and that they enjoy it!
- Help teens become social media savvy by teaching them that their posts can live on forever and by monitoring their media use. (They will thank you later.)
- Balance screen time with creative play, exploration in nature, social stimulation, and exercise. Prioritize family time for games, bike rides, and walks. Keep in mind that it’s human interaction that is critical for cognitive, mental, and physical well-being.
Screens are here to stay, and technological advances benefit families in a plethora of ways. Encouraging smart use at home teaches children an important skill.