Science is finally confirming with what astute parents have known for decades: too much TV is bad for kids. With the proliferation of other screen-based technologies in addition to TV, opportunities for children and adolescents to disappear into a screen-based alternate universe have only increased. A study by Kaiser Family Foundation finds that the amount of time young people spend in front of a computer, television, video game, or media-equipped phone—termed “screen time”—has increased by 77 minutes over the past 5 years. The average screen time for children and adolescents aged 8 – 18 now stands at a whopping 7 hours and 38 minutes per day! Given that this behavior occurs 7 days a week, this means that many children are spending as much or more time watching a screen as their parents spend at work.
But screen-based technologies keep our children and adolescents quiet, occupied, seemingly content, and out of our hair. So what’s the problem with a little, or a lot, of TV? A recent study from the University of Bristol found that more than two hours of screen time per day correlates to higher behavioral and social problems in children and teens. Obesity is also being linked to excessive screen time, which of course has serious health implications and may further exacerbate the potential for emotional issues among our screen-obsessed children and adolescents. Children and adolescents who use any behavior as a coping mechanism may be more likely to increase this behavior when faced with social or emotional stressors. So increased screen time can lead to social, behavioral, and emotional problems which in turn lead to increased screen time, which in turn exacerbates the child’s problems.
What’s a Parent to Do?
How do parents either prevent or correct a pattern of excessive screen time in their child or adolescent? The first step, say many experts, is to set a good example. Parents who limit their own screen time are in a better position to prevent screen obsession in their children. Also, setting parameters—especially with adolescents—works better when they sense that those parameters are coming from a place of integrity. Adolescents have a penchant for sniffing out hypocrisy and justifying their own behaviors based on what they observe in the adults around them. Once your own viewing patterns are in line with the standard you want for your family, the following tips may help you chip away at excessive screen time in your household.
- Identify and encourage alternatives to screen time–set an example by exercising, taking walks, playing board games, and reading
- Keep TVs and computers out of bedrooms.
- Turn off the cell phone, electronic games, and TV during meals.
- No TV while doing homework (yes, some adolescents claim it they can do both at once!).
- The computer stays in a public room in the home
- Watch TV together and talk about what you see on TV as an opportunity to share your own beliefs and values.
- Keep the computer in a common area. Keep it where you can watch and monitor your kids. Avoid putting a computer in a child’s bedroom.
- Set prerequisites for screen time–only allow TV viewing is allowed only after chores, exercise, and homework are completed.
- Try a weekday screen ban (except computer use for homework and telephone for calls).
- Create screen rules with your child or adolescent–adolescents in particular need to feel that rules make sense.
- Turn the TV off at a set time at night