As I sat in a restaurant waiting on my order, I looked around. Nearly every table had a kid that was “plugged in” to some device. I started thinking about what this means in terms of child health as I see this happening not only in restaurants, but in cars, in stores, and even in my office.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to technology (as I sit here on a computer). I just want you as a parent to feel comfortable in setting limits for your children to encourage a healthy balance in their daily schedule.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), childhood obesity affects 13.7 million children between the ages of 2 and 19 years. That means that more than 18 percent of American children are obese. Our children need to put down those devices to move and play.
Screen time is affecting weight in children. Screen time is defined as time spent in front of any type of screen. This includes television, video games, computers, phones, and even educational screen devices.
I often hear parents complain that their kids are having difficulty going to sleep at night. When I have a patient with sleep issues, I generally learn that there is a screen of some type in the bedroom. The blue light from screens can interfere with the body’s ability to feel drowsy.
My first recommendation is to remove all screens from the bedroom, including the phone. At my home, phones are left on the kitchen counter to charge overnight. This eliminates an urge to check the phone during the night.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has set up a list of recommendations on media use. These recommendations encourage young minds to utilize media for fun and learning while incorporating a balanced approach to life including friends, exercise and healthy sleep patterns. Parents are curious about just how much screen time they should allow.
According to the AAP, children younger than 18 months old should have no screen time other than video-chatting with relatives or friends (grandparents cannot be denied this joy). Children from 18 to 24 months should be allowed ONLY high-quality children’s programming that is age appropriate and incorporates learning. Even so, you should watch the program with them and then discuss it to assist their understanding. Parental involvement is key.
From two to five years of age, children should be allowed no more than one hour of screen time daily of high-quality, educational programming. Children over six years of age should limit screen time to less than two hours per day. Continue to supervise your child’s screen time even in the teen years.
Children need their parents’ help to balance their sleep schedule. Children ages 3-5 years need 10 to 13 hours, ages 6 to 12 years need 9 to 12 hours, teens need 8 to 10 hours. Children also need 1 hour daily of healthy exercise. Setting limits on screen time helps children to find balance in their daily schedule allowing for socialization and discussion.
Besides setting limits on screen time, parents may also wish to designate device-free times and places. At my home the dinner table is a device-free zone. Bedrooms should be device-free as well to encourage healthy sleep. Car rides are a wonderful time to really connect one-on-one with your children. Perhaps limiting screen time in the car will give way to some wonderful discussion.
Feel free to set appropriate limits on screen time, just as you would on other treats. We don’t let our kids eat an entire box of cookies, so why would we let them gorge on their device? Set the screen aside and encourage a family game night. Mandate healthy bedtimes and encourage participation in sports and exercise programs. Encourage dinner time discussion.
Of course, our children need to learn computer skills. However, we also need them to have social skills. Screens can be a healthy, educational part of our children’s lives while allowing a balanced approach that includes exercise, friends, activities and sound sleep. Read more at HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan. Enjoy the time you have with your children.