While we’ve all been busy avoiding Covid-19, we’ve created a situation that is a much bigger threat to our kids’ health: too much screen time. It is now an epidemic with evidence in research that excessive screen time is causing an array of health issues including, eye conditions, mental health illness, obesity and behavioural issues.
Before you go rolling your eyes, and thinking screens aren’t THAT bad, consider this:
1. Our kids are spending two to three times more on devices than they were during the pandemic (at least); and
2. Loads of kids have been given their own device from the age of 5 – due to lockdowns – that would not have otherwise.
When you think, “Screens aren’t THAT bad”, you are partially correct. In moderation, screen time has fantastic benefits and positive aspects. However, the time spent on screens at the expense of other things is what is causing the concern from health experts:
- Kids are interacting less in person and the intensity of some games on the brains as well as excess social media is contributing to mental health issues.
- Kids are being less active, leading to a sharp increase in obesity and a decrease in physical development as the body needs to run, jump, climb, and explore. Osteopaths, chiropractors and physical therapists are concerned about kids posture too.
- Kids are doing less creative and imaginative play, having a negative impact on brain development.
- Kids are sleeping less and the quality of sleep is reduced. Low sleep causes moodiness, impatience, inability to concentrate, and contributes to mental health issues.
- Optometrists are reporting a huge increase in short-sightedness as a result of the screen time.
Pegging back screen time even an hour a day can help enormously.
Here are some tips to help you do that.
1. Sit down with your child and explain that they need to replace some screen time with other activities. Be prepared to compromise and tell them you want to work together on this. Listen to them protest and all their reasons why they don’t want to but be firm and continue on. Make a list of all the screen-free activities they like to do and put it up somewhere they can refer to it at any time to avoid the dreaded boredom feelings.
2. Come up with a routine and stick to it. It’s far easier to monitor and manage kids time on devices if it’s a set routine: eg. they are allowed to play between 4pm & 6pm each day.
3. Put devices away at least an hour before bedtime, it helps with sleep quality. The bright lights from the screen interfere with kids’ melatonin levels which has a detrimental effect on their sleep (Side note: it impacts adults levels too!).
4. Offer them rewards and incentives for sticking to the routine, you could even give them a bonus hour over the weekend if they do their chores and put the devices away when their time is up.
5. Consider how you are modelling your own screen time. Kids do as we do, not as we say. Put your phone away for an hour each night and do things together as a family – homework, board game, cleaning up the kitchen, going for a walk or bike ride together in the summer months. Make this time meaningful and fun for the whole family – it will create memories that will last a lifetime.
Curtailing our kids’ screen time is not easy, but it’s an essential life skill to “screen coach” our kids so they learn to avoid the potential long term health impacts as I’ve discussed above. Even though the kids will probably push back initially, deep down they will be grateful you supported them in this way. Your kids will likely be healthier, calmer, happier and cope better at school and in social situations. In other words, it will be totally worth it!
Stephanie Kakris has a Masters in Psychology and is a published parenting author. She is the co-founder of ScreenCoach, a combined hardware and software platform where kids are allocated a set amount of screen time, and after their time is up, they need to go and complete activities such as exercise, chores or non-screen play to earn more time before they can resume. Find out more at www.myscreencoach.com.