Memorial Regional Health: Finding a healthy balance with kids’ screen time

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When kids are home over the holidays, it is easy for screen time to increase. Setting boundaries and making time for off-screen activities can be help find a healthy balance.
Memorial Regional Health/Courtesy photo

Today’s children are digital natives. They’re growing up in a world that’s online all the time. So naturally, they too, are plugged in — to video games, social media, YouTube content and TV shows.

The COVID-19 pandemic only increased young people’s use of screen time. Isolating at home, many kids had to rely on technology to continue to participate in school and connect with friends.

But even as the majority of us engage with screens more than the real world, we wonder if all this electronics time is good for kids. We want them to be healthy, well-educated, socially integrated and happy. How do we help them navigate their digital realities and find the right balance for the use of screen time?



Negative effects of screen time

Studies show that:

• In general, screen time increases the risk of obesity, attention problems, anxiety, depression and insomnia in youth.



• The more time teens spend on social media, the less connected they feel to others.

• Social media use among teens contributes to unrealistic body ideals and eating disorders.

• For younger kids, excessive screen time is associated with behavioral problems.

• Early screen exposure can lead to developmental delays in communication, fine-motor skills, problem-solving and social skills by age 2. 

These are just some of the negative effects of screen time that have been confirmed by scientific studies.

How to create a media-use plan

For most families, keeping youth away from screens isn’t the answer. The American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend that media use should be very limited for children younger than 2, and kept to no more than one hour per day for kids ages 2 to 5. But for grade schoolers and above, the AAP opts not to recommend specific hourly limits.

Instead, parents are urged to guide their children in creating media-use plans that prioritize their physical, cognitive, emotional and social health while also acknowledging the need to engage in the world digitally.

Here are some media-use plan guidelines:

• Be open about media use in your family. Encourage open, regular discussions about what everyone is watching and doing online. Model healthy behaviors and limits yourself. Create family rules about what’s appropriate and safe, and revisit them together often.

• Teach children to prioritize their well-being. Talk to kids about the importance of regularly checking in with themselves. If they’re tired, their brains are telling them to turn off electronics and rest or sleep. If they’re hungry, their bodies are telling them they should prepare a healthy snack. If they feel listless or irritated, they probably need some physical activity and sunshine. If they’re upset or anxious by what they’re engaging with online, they should turn to other activities instead. If they feel isolated from peers, getting together in real life is a great plan.

• Plan media-free times together. Family dinner is a good daily habit. Sit down together at the same time every evening, and put away your devices. Family game nights, walks and sporting activities are other great rituals. In addition, parents should model electronics-free hobbies, such as reading, crafts or woodworking, outdoor activities and routine social gatherings.

For more information on healthy media-use habits for kids, visit HealthyChildren.org, which is full of trustworthy tips and guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.


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