Healthy Counts is a simple step by step approach that kids and adults can follow in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. We’ve already talked about cutting sugary drinks and increasing physical activity, now let’s discussing limiting screen time to 2 hours or less per day.
What Counts as Screen Time?
Screen time includes computers, televisions, video games and now cell phones. All those screens add up lightning fast. While it has quickly become ingrained into our society as a necessity and the norm, are we getting too much of a good thing?
What Do Physicians Say?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has these recommendations around screen time for kids:
- No screens before age 2. The brain is rapidly developing in the early years. Research shows that screen time doesn’t help and can actually delay language development. While you may strive for your baby to be tech savvy, what our newest and youngest children need for optimal brain development is healthy interaction with care givers, movement and play with other children.
- No more than 2 hours a day. For kids older than age 2, screen time of all forms should be limited to less than 2 hours a day. Homework doesn’t count in the 2 hour recommendation, but texting, video games, computer time and TV do.
- Unplug the bedroom. Television in the bedroom can isolate kids from the rest of the family, increase sedentary time and screen time. Plus screen time before bed can make it harder to fall asleep.
How Can I Help Reduce My Child’s Screen Time?
As you tally up your child’s screen time, 2 hours may seem unrealistic. However, this should cause you to take pause and honestly evaluate if too much screen time is a concern. If so, reducing it can certainly come with some challenges but also rewards. Here are some thoughts to make the daunting challenge doable:
- Fire the babysitter. If you use video games, computers or television as a “babysitter,” it may be time to rethink this strategy. While convenient and sometimes necessary to use screen time as a quick diversion for your kids, too much leaves less time for physical activity and play that is connected to developing imagination and creativity. Going cold turkey is rough for any of us, so ease them off it a little at a time.
- “There’s a new sheriff in town.” Parents often don’t feel confident when it comes to reducing their child’s screen time. Truthfully, it’s less about turning off the TV or video games and more about addressing the inevitable question, “Now what do we do?” Helping children find alternatives can be a challenge, but depending on the age of your child is probably necessary. Ask yourself or your child: What hobbies would your child enjoy? What activities can we do together as a family?
- Who’s watching you? Yes, what you do matters. If you balance your screen time with other important pursuits like spending time together as a family, hobbies, physical activity and getting enough sleep, your children will follow your lead.
- Lose the screens. If mealtime feels like media wars and you feel like you are losing the battle it may be time to set some limits around screen time during meals. Make a pact that there will be no texting, emailing, television or Facebook during mealtime. Take those 15 to 30 minutes to connect as a family.
While 2 hours of screen time a day can seem out of reach, cutting back some is better than not at all.