It’s impossible to read the news these days without encountering new guidelines and warnings about screen time for kids. And it’s no wonder: a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, with 45% claiming they’re online “on a near-constant basis.”
And it’s not just adolescents and teens: since 1997, screen time for kids under two years old has nearly doubled. Given these trends, researchers have highlighted some of the dangers of screen time that parents ought to know, and established some guidelines for viewing time. How can your child benefit from less screen time?
The Dangers of Screen Time
Let’s dive a little deeper into some of the main dangers of excess screen time for kids:
- Vision Health. Smartphones emit something called “blue light” that has a shorter wavelength than the other light we see on a daily basis. Research suggests that blue light could damage the eye’s retina and impact vision health over time.
- Sleep disruption. That same “blue light” emanating from your kids’ smartphones can have another damaging effect: by suppressing your body’s natural sleep hormone melatonin, blue light can disrupt your children’s sleep cycles.
- Inactivity & Obesity. There are major links between childhood obesity and increased screen time. Spending time on the internet or in front of the television instead of engaging in physical activity can have lasting effects on kids’ weight and health.
- Social Impacts. An interesting study compared two groups of sixth-graders: one had access to screens, while the other attended an outdoor camp with no screens. Even after just five days, the kids who hadn’t used screens were better at identifying faces and emotions — which shows how quickly screen use can detract from kids’ social abilities.
- Young kids: Brain Effects. In young children exposed to 2- hours of television per day, researchers have found increased issues with language skills, memory, and attention span than found in children who used screens less frequently.
- Adolescents: Brain Effects. In adolescents who spend way too much time using the internet, neuroimaging has shown serious impacts on the brain. For example, internet addiction can cause a decline in the brain’s gray matter, which is pivotal for planning, impulse control, and organizing skills. In addition, people in this group experienced a loss of white matter, which decreases communication in the brain.
How Much is Too Much? Guidelines by Age Group
With all of these dangers in mind, how can parents know how much is too much when it comes to screen time? Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Whole Health Organization( WHO) have issued guidelines on screen time usage by age group. Let’s take a quick look at what they suggest:
Infant to 18 months. Babies this age shouldn’t be exposed to screens at all, except for occasionally being allowed to video chat with family members.
18 to 24 months. At this age, toddlers still shouldn’t spend much time in front of screens. The WHO recommends no screen time at all for a one-year-old, and less than an hour per day for a two-year-old. If they do watch television or programs, the AAP recommends finding high-quality programs and watching it with your child to explain what they’re seeing.
2 years to 5 years. Both the WHO and the AAP recommend that kids this age should be physically active — engaging in play and socializing instead of watching TV. Keep it to under an hour.
6 and older. As kids reach this age, you might have to be more flexible. Children this age may encounter media at school and other programs, so you might not be able to limit all their screen time. Neither the WHO or the AAP gives a specific recommendation, so you have to tailor your at-home rules to fit your family. Make sure to set reasonable guidelines at home so they know what’s expected (i.e. establish a limit of one hour limit on weekdays and 1.5 hours per day on weekends).
How Kids Benefit from Less Screen Time
There are countless benefits to limiting kids’ screen time. In addition to helping counteract all the harmful effects discussed above — like eye damage, cognitive issues, and inactivity — studies have shown it’s never too late to make a positive change. According to one study, when parents monitor their kids’ screen usage, children show better school performance, improved sleep, lower BMI, and less aggressive behavior.
Instead of screen time, kids can use quiet time to read, work on some of their favorite hobbies (art, music), and keep on top of their homework. Cutting screen time opens up more time for kids to run, play, and compete with other kids. Not only does this keep them physically healthy and active, but it encourages them to develop a healthy social life and learn how to interact well with others.
Quick Tips on How to Limit Screen Time
Struggling with cutting screen time in your household, or not sure how to get started? Here are some quick tips that might be helpful for you and your kids:
- Screen Free Week. Every year from May 1-7, celebrate Screen Free Week as a way to reset your family’s viewing habits. Missed the deadline? Choose a week that works for your family, and stick with it.
- Limits, limits, limits. Without clear guidelines, it’s tough for kids to know when put the phone down or turn off the TV. Set clear limits for kids so that they can learn to self-regulate.
- Watch your own habits. If you’re constantly on your phone or laptop during family time, it’s setting a precedent that your kids might try to follow. Try to establish some limitations for yourself, as well.
- Offer fun alternatives. Sometimes, kids turn to screens when they’re bored or under-stimulated. Make sure to keep them occupied with sports, social events, and outings so they won’t resort to the television for entertainment.
Keep Kids on the Go
For every family, reaching an agreement about screen time is all about compromise. A lot of it comes down to offering kids healthy and fun alternatives that keep them excited about staying off the screens.
With that in mind, let’s keep kids running, playing and competing. Visit any Omega Sports on the 4th of every month this summer and trade in your video game for a same-day instant savings.