Children and adolescents nowadays spend a lot of time in front of the screens playing video games, watching television, scrolling on their smartphones and tablets. While the screens can entertain, expand our knowledge and help us connect with each other, but too much screen time may lead to problems. 

What is screen time? 

“Screen time” is the term used for activities people do in front of the screen, like watching television, playing video games, working on a laptop, or using smartphones. It is a sedentary activity which means a person is by and large truly inactive while lying down. The American Academy of Paediatrics deters media use by children who are younger than two years and suggests limiting screen time for older kids to not more than two hours a day.

Parents may not necessarily know what kind of content their kids are consuming or how much time they are spending in front of the screens. Children may be exposed to violent content, trolling on the internet, cyber bullying, sexual content, negative stereotypes or misleading information. 

The adverse effects of screen time:

Too much screen time and being exposed to such content can be linked to:

  • Behavioural Problems

Primary school students who spend more than two hours in a day playing video games or watching TV or using laptops or smartphones are more likely to have social and emotional concerns and may even have problems with their attention span and concentration. Children who are exposed to violence on screens may as a result, learn those violent behaviours and might consider it as normal behaviour.

  • Irregular Sleep

The more time children spend in front of the screens, the more likely they are to have difficulty falling asleep or have disturbed and irregular sleep cycle. This can in turn lead to increased snacking and fatigue.

  • Obesity

Children who spend a lot of time lying around watching TV or video games, are at a higher risk of becoming overweight which can even lead to obesity. Junk food promoted in advertisements can also lead to children consuming more of those foods as well as binging on them while they our enjoying their screen time.

  • Impaired academic performance 

Screens may lead to distractions, which as a result can hamper child’s academics. Children who have screens in their bedroom are more likely to perform poorly on tests than those who don’t have those in their bedrooms.

  • Less time with family and friends

Children get so engrossed with the screens that they don’t spend a lot of time with their families. It also leads to decreased face to face interaction and outdoor activities.

How do we control the screen time of children?

Managing children’s screen time can be a challenging task. Here are some ways in which it can be controlled:

  • Keep the screens out of the bedroom

Children who have TV or other screens in their bedroom tend to have a higher screen time than others. By keeping the screens in the common area like living room, the content can be monitored by the parents while the screen time can also be managed.

  • Parental control settings

Parents can turn on parental control on the TV to make sure that the children are watching age appropriate content.

  • Outdoor activities 

Children should be encouraged to engage in outdoor activities, learn activities and develop new hobbies like art, dance, sports etc. that do not involve screens. Parents can also schedule dedicated play time with children.

  • Parents should lead by example

Parents should set an example for the children by limiting their own screen time and spending quality time with the children.

  • Cyber security 

Children should have the knowledge of cyber crimes and how they can protect themselves on the internet. It is very important to teach children about online privacy and safety practices.

  • Don’t eat in front of the screen

Eating in front of the screens leads to more screen time as well as mindless snacking which can lead to weight gain. Parents should ensure that they have at least one meal with the children and spend some quality time as a family without the screens.

  • No screens before bedtime

All screens should be turned off at least an hour before bedtime. This will also help with children getting sound sleep.

  • For toddlers, do not use screens as babysitter

TVs or smartphones shouldn’t be used as babysitters or pacifiers for toddlers. Screens are not good for babies, it increases their screen time and they are more likely to get addicted to the screens.

Research suggests that increased screen time can have long term adverse effects. Regardless of how mature and tech savvy the children might be, it is very important to monitor their screen time and social media conduct. By creating some basic screen time rules and revisiting those rules as the children grow up, parents can establish healthy and appropriate screen habits.