Why it’s essential to limit your child’s screen time

During the summer holiday, when you’re struggling to get jobs done or you just need an hour’s peace and quiet, screen time can seem just the answer.  The problem is that both you and your child can pay the price.  When a child has spent too long in front of a screen you start to notice that their mood changes.  When the screen is switched off they can become angry, confrontational, or feel too miserable and ‘low’ to focus on a different activity. 

Here we look at the pros and cons of screen time, and consider some ways to limit its adverse effects. 

Good news about screen time:

  • It gives parents time to relax. 
  • Watching television and playing computer games gives children down-time.
  • Children enjoy time on screens.
  • Smartphones and tablets are tools for communication.  Children can see distant relatives on Skype, learn new languages with pen friends from abroad, or make their own videos to share with others.
  • There are educational advantages.  Children can learn languages, maths, phonics, reading and science – almost any subject – via a screen. 
  • Technology is embedded into modern life.  Children will need computer skills when they go out to work.
  • Some apps such as Pokemon Go and Geocaching encourage children to go out and explore when they wouldn’t otherwise. 
  • Computer games can encourage children to be physically active eg. Guitar Hero and Wii Dance.

The disadvantages:

  • Child protection.  Dangers include cyberbullying, grooming, and being exposed to inappropriate material.  It’s vital to have technology safeguards in place and to educate children about internet safety.
  • Mental health issues.  Some studies suggest screen time isn’t detrimental to children’s mental health but others disagree.  The best thing to do is study your child’s moods.  How does screen time affect them?  Remember – screens are addictive (as any adult with Facebook will know).
  • Boredom intolerance. By giving children a screen to stave off boredom we are doing them a disservice (and who hasn’t given a child their mobile phone in a restaurant?).  We are depriving them of learning strategies for coping with boring situations which are, after all, part of life.  Boredom can be a friend.  It’s a stimulus for creativity and it motivates us to make changes to our lives. 
  • Living in an artificial world.  Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and online gaming should not replace face-to-face interaction and real-world friendships.  Friendships are vital for mental well-being.
  • Declining social skills.  Who hasn’t visited a friend who spent the time glued to a screen, texting somebody else?  It’s not behaviour that we want to encourage in our children.
  • Physical injuries.  Too much screen time can cause cell phone elbow, text claw and back and neck problems.  A study carried out by iposture, found that 84% of young adults in the UK experience back pain mainly due to over-use of screens. 
  • Eye strain.  Blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes, and dizziness can be caused by staring unblinkingly at a screen and scrolling too quickly.  New evidence shows that eye strain can trigger nearsightedness.
  • Poor sleep caused by screens in the bedroom.  Games and social media platforms are addictive so your child will be tempted to play late into the night.  Also, light from a screen tricks the brain into thinking it is daytime.

How can you limit screen time?

  1. Don’t allow screen time in the morning.  That’s because children enjoy screen time so much it triggers a dopamine rush, so any activity that follows will seem dull in comparison.  Screen time in the morning kills children’s motivation to do anything else.
  2. Set a time limit.  Guidelines about how much screen time is healthy for children change all the time.  It’s really best to use your own judgement by observing the effect screen time has on your child.  Observe their moods, their eyes and their posture.  As a rough guide, more than an hour at a time is too much.  Use an oven timer if needed.
  3. Set screen time to a certain time of the day.  If children know what to expect and when, they are less likely to argue with you.
  4. Only allow screen time after other activities; whether it’s riding a bike, visiting friends, going to the library, visiting a soft play centre, reading, painting, or playing a board game – it doesn’t matter.  Other activities first, screens second.
  5. Keep screen time out of the bedroom.  See ‘Poor sleep’ above.  It’s also hard to police what children are playing, who with, and for how long, when screen time happens behind a closed door.
  6. Encourage high quality screen time such as:
    • Creating your own films with iMovie
    • Developing coding skills
    • Learning a new language
    • Playing games that encourage physical activity
    • Watching and discussing an educational television programme together.

Screens have a positive and a negative impact on children’s lives.  Screens are part of modern life and we cannot – and should not – unplug altogether. 

Lead by example.  Let your child see that you limit your own screen time.  Keep phones and screens out of your bedroom, don’t text or scroll your phone when you’re playing with your child, and don’t have the television constantly on in the background.  

Think about when screen time enhances your life and when it has a negative impact on your own well-being.  Children learn by observing the behaviour of adults.

It’s essential to limit your child’s screen time – and you can!

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