Screen time for kids is something of a controversial issue, especially in more recent times. With each passing day, it seems like there’s a new study coming out showing the negative effects of screen time on the young mind, and that’s enough to strike fear into the heart of any parent. Of course, it’s always worth asking questions and doing further research when studies like these come out. That begs a few questions, then. Are screens really all that bad for kids? Is it possible to use them in moderation? How do you, as a parent, ensure that your kid is able to moderate their screen time? And most importantly, how do you raise a socially healthy and well-adjusted child in an increasingly isolated digital age?
Is Screen Time Bad for Kids?
Screen time isn’t inherently bad for kids; in fact, it can even have a number of positive impacts if used correctly. The problem, though, is that most people, especially young children, have an extremely hard time self-regulating and moderating the amount of screen time they get in a day, and that leads to a number of drawbacks. An excess of screen time is often associated with a number of issues for both physical health, like obesity and insomnia resulting from a sedentary lifestyle, to mental health, like a shortened attention span as well as anxiety and depressive disorders due to social isolation.
Generally speaking, children who spend more time on screens are spending less time outside, so they’ll have less time for active play, and may not engage in other activities like playing with toys, drawing, or reading that would promote their creative growth and development. Therefore, while screen time itself isn’t bad for kids, it can become a bad thing if left unchecked, so it’s important for you as a parent to help your child to engage with their screens in a responsible way.
Decide How Much is Enough
The first and most important step in managing your child’s screen time is deciding at what point you need to start setting limits. Many recommend that younger children have no more screen time than 1-2 hours a day. While there are a nearly infinite number of activities for children to enjoy on their screens, there’s the addictive factor of screens that makes unlimited screen time unwise, as well as the fact that the internet isn’t exactly a safe place for a child. Though they may not appreciate having limits put on their screen time at first, ensuring the safety and healthy development of your children makes doing so a worthwhile endeavor. As they grow, mature, and learn to self-regulate, you can begin to rework those limits, and eventually remove them entirely, but during your children’s younger years, it’s still important to have those guardrails in place.
Establish a Screen Time Schedule
Children, especially younger ones, thrive when given a framework to work within, and this is especially true for the ways in which they choose to spend their time. If left without a solid routine in place, kids and adults alike tend to turn to mindless scrolling to kill time, and this often results in needlessly wasted time as great as several hours gone from the day.
Aside from limiting the amount of time your children can use their screens, it also helps to establish routine times in which screens are acceptable to use. For example, they may want to watch an episode of their favorite show in the mornings or evenings, have a bit of time to play their favorite game at some time in the afternoon, and spread the rest of their screen time throughout the day.
In addition to deciding when and where it’s acceptable for your kids to use their screens, it’s also helpful to decide when and where it isn’t. There’s a time and place for everything, and setting boundaries regarding when and where screens can be used will help your kids to live in the moment more and spend time socializing with people when it counts, only using their screens when they have some time to themselves.
Some common boundaries, for example, are no screens at the dinner table, at family gatherings, or during real-life conversations. Taking a screen time break at any of these times will allow your children to become more mentally and emotionally present, willing and able to involve themselves in life, forming new relationships and strengthening existing ones in the process.
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