Kids today are growing up in a fast-paced world that’s very unlike the one their grandparents, and even their parents knew as children. Technology has been accelerating so quickly that it’s impossible for researchers to get a handle on how these devices are affecting kids before new ones come onto the market.
Because of this, there’s been a lot of uncertainty over the last decade as to how much screen time is appropriate for kids. Adults are glued to their devices all day, and kids and teens love them just as much. But studies that have emerged are painting different pictures of the consequences of screen time.
All that uncertainty and confusion has led to inconsistency for parents and disagreements about what should and shouldn’t be allowed in school. So as a parent, what should you allow in the home? And is it really a problem for kids to be getting screen time in the classroom as well as after school? These guidelines and facts might help you get the clarity you’re looking for.
Research on Screen Time for Kids
Research has (mostly) caught up on screen time and we now have at least a little more to work with than we did a few years ago. The good news: screen time doesn’t seem to have an impact on academic performance.
In other areas, however, it’s not time to breathe a sigh of relief just yet. 70% of teenagers in 2018 used social media multiple times a day, and not all of that interaction has been positive. 42% reported that they saw their friends less in real life due to social media use. On the other hand, most feel more confident and less lonely due to social media use.
And finally, all that screen time often has an impact on health. Kids and teens often eat more while they use screen media and are not as aware of their food choices. This, combined with poor sleep due to screen use and less physical activity, can lead to obesity and a whole host of health problems.
How Much is Too Much?
Now that we know the good, the bad, and the ugly of the research results on screen time, how can we apply those findings to help kids stay happy and healthy? Unfortunately, the answer to “how much screen time is too much” is often “it depends.”
In young children, the guidelines are fairly rigid. For babies under the age of 2, no screen media besides video chatting should be allowed. From 2-5, screen time should be limited to an hour of high-quality programming. After the age of 6, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has no strict guidelines other than that the use of media should not interfere with sleep, exercise, and other essentials.
Parents have to create their own criteria for what is “too much” and find out what works best for their households. A lot will depend on the child—their maturity, habits, and the kinds of media they prefer. Using devices to do homework and watch educational programs is quite different from playing Candy Crush for five hours.
Setting Restrictions on Media Use
No one likes to lay down the law and make the kids put down their phones. But it’s important to have consistent rules surrounding media use if you want to manage and limit your children’s screen time.
First, think about whether your restrictions will be time-based or activity-based. You might not want your child watching movies on their iPad in bed, but it’s okay for the family to watch a movie together in the living room before bedtime.
Some parents make certain areas of the home (like the dinner table) into tech-free zones. No one, grown-ups included, is allowed to bring their phones into the area. Others enforce restrictions using tracking apps or parental controls. Monitoring social media use is also important as children and adolescents learn about appropriate communication and cyberbullying.
Teachers may find screen time management solutions trickier since they are dealing with different personalities and different rules at home for each member of the classroom. It’s important to balance the use of digital media in the classroom with hands-on and collaborative learning in order to leverage the best of technology while building real-world skills and relationships.
Find Healthy Alternatives
Replacing some of your child’s screen time with healthy alternatives will help to make its absence less upsetting. Reading together before bed instead of watching videos, going outside as a family, or working on craft projects together can all be great ways to reduce the need for screen time. “Too much” screen time may be subjective—but you know your family best.