Technology has integrated into our daily lives more than ever. How much is too much? How can we find a healthy balance for our kids?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are spending an average of seven hours every day using entertainment media – TV, computers, smartphones, tablets and other devices. That’s five more hours per day than the recommended maximum two hours of screen time every day. That’s 49 hours – or more than two full days – worth of visual media use each week.
Studies show overexposure to media can lead to several problems for children:
Dr. Michael Stuart of the Mayo Clinic says almost three-quarters of our kids do not engage in enough physical activity and more than one-third of children are obese. Media overuse is a big contributor to those numbers.
“There is a direct correlation between the amount of hours of TV and other media watched and the incidence of obesity in kids,” says Stuart, who is also the Chief Medical Officer of USA Hockey.
Here are some tips to help monitor screen time and find a healthier balance between technology and life:
Keep it out of the bedroom. All media should be taken out of the bedroom. This prevents kids from adding hours and hours of TV or video games without supervision. Media use right before bedtime can also add to sleep deprivation.
No TV during meals. Whatever happened to family communication anyway? Spend your meals away from the screen and fire up some conversation. Find out about each others’ days and what the kids learned. Maybe the kids can even help cook and prepare the meal and clean up afterward instead of watching TV.
Lead by example. Your message won’t be received well if you come home from work and immediately turn on the television, check your emails on your smartphone and download new apps on your tablet. Sometimes it’s inevitable for parents to have to work at home. Try to set a good example.
Let them decide. As long as it’s appropriate, let the kids decide how they want to spend their screen time. Maybe it’s 20 minutes on a video game, 10 minutes on the internet and 30 minutes during their TV show. Whether it is watching cartoons or the Minnesota Wild, giving them the chance to make those decisions can teach them valuable lessons.
Provide alternative activities. Some kids feel like they have nothing else to do but watch TV or play video games. Make sure other options are available – sports, biking, frisbee, reading, science projects, legos, board games, drawing/coloring, etc. Keep all the equipment, balls and other materials ready for them to pick up. Don’t forget to join them!
Use a timer. Whether it’s the sleep timer on the TV, the kitchen timer you use for cooking, or even your cell phone, these devices can help enforce your guidelines.
Reward them. When your kids have diminished their screen time to appropriate levels, reward them. Not with bonus TV time, but something else they might enjoy – a trip to the zoo or amusement park, clothes, ice cream, etc.
Using these guidelines are a good start to help overturn bad habits. By avoiding all the negative side effects of media overuse, your kids can be healthier, happier, smarter and more energetic than ever before. All of this can contribute to them being a better student and athlete.