Managing Screen Time in Families: Part 1

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Managing screen time in families is a new burden on parents. Our parents only had to worry about television. Now, you can get hours of screen time in every day without ever turning on a television.

Whether you think screen time is good, bad, or neutral, it’s something worth examing closely.

Here are a few of the negative issues regarding screens I see in my professional life:

  • Parents feel like they’ve waited too long to restrict screen time, and now it’s out of hand.
  • Teachers feel like unlimited, unrestricted screen time is decreasing students’ tolerance for analog activities like, say, thinking.
  • Youth don’t know how to entertain themselves without screens.

I’ve decided to devote a series on the site to managing screen time in families.

I’m starting with some facts.

So How Much are They Really Watching/Playing/Surfing?

  • Children aged five to 16 spend an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen compared with around three hours in 1995, according to market research firm Childwise.
  • Teenaged boys spend the longest, with an average of eight hours. Shocked? Unfortunately, I think not.
  • Children are also now multi-screening – using more than one device at the same time, for example, watching TV while surfing the internet on a tablet or mobile so some of the screen time will be concurrent.
  • On any given day, 29% of babies under the age of 1 are watching TV and videos for an average of about 90 minutes. Twenty-three percent have a television in their bedroom. Think about that for a minute.
  • Time with screens increases rapidly in the early years. Between their first and second birthday, on any given day, 64% of babies and toddlers are watching TV and videos, averaging slightly over 2 hours. Thirty-six percent have a television in their bedroom.
  • Data vary on the amount of time preschool children spend with screen media, but even the most conservative findings show that children between the ages of two and five average 2.2 hours per day. Other studies show that preschoolers spend as much as 4.16 and 4.6 hours per day using screen media.
  • 71% of 8- to 18-year-olds have a TV in their bedroom.
  • Including when they’re multitasking, 8- to 18-year-olds consume an average of 7 hours and 11 minutes of screen media per day—an increase of 2.5 hours in just 10 years.

We have reached a point at which virtual reality has become the reality for many of us, not just the kids who live in our home.

The Effects

For older children and adolescents, excessive screen time is linked to increased psychological difficulties that include hyperactivity, emotional and conduct problems, difficulties with peers and poor school performance.

One thing I find particularly worrisome is that screen time can be habit-forming: the more time children engage with screens, the harder time they have turning them off as they become older children.

I’m going to list some of the facts I found when researching. [If you’re interested in what I read to find this, feel free to look at my sources. Yawn.]

  • Toddler screen time is linked to increased BMI, as it is for children ages 3 – 5.
  • For each hour of television viewing per day, children consume an additional 167 calories.
  • TV viewing among two- to four-year old children predicts increased intake of high-energy, low-nutrient foods.
  • TV/video viewing for preschoolers is linked to fast food consumption.
  • Bedroom televisions are associated with obesity risk in children of all ages.
  • Time with video games is linked to overweight. Video game playing increases food intake. Children who own active video games such as the Wii do not show an increase of physical activity.
  • Screen time for children under three is linked to delayed language acquisition. The more time preschool children spend with screens, the less time they spend engaged in creative play (the foundation of learning), constructive problem solving, and creativity. The results surprised even the researchers, showing that toys that talk and sing, light up and play music interfere with learning rather than contributing to it.
  • Adolescents with a television in their bedroom spend more time watching TV and report less physical activity, less healthy dietary habits, worse school performance, and fewer family meals.
  • Adolescents who watch 3 or more hours of television daily are at especially high risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes toward school, poor grades, and long-term academic failure.
  • For babies and preschool children, time with screens is negatively correlated with time spent interacting with parents–which is essential for learning. Even when parents co-view, they spend less time talking to their children than when they’re engaged in activities such as reading or hands-on play with children.

From all I read (and it was a lot), my biggest takeaway was that screens are great servants, but they prefer to be the master. A life of servitude to screens is not a life well lived. It is my hope that we can be mindful and deliberate and intentional about our relationship with screens.

Action Steps

  1. Conduct a screen audit. For one week, track all screen time. You may choose to use this audit form.
  2. Read Part 2 of this series.

 

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