Online classes, virtual playgroups, online messengers, online and application games, online videos, and social media have become part of our family's lives.  It has become so prevalent that seeing a young child with a phone is not an unusual sight these days.

Growing up in the digital age is quite different from what we have been used to.  Parents may feel some relief or quiet time as kids are busy with their gadgets.  Some parents say that their kids learn a lot from the videos they watch.  However, as the children spend more time with their devices, parents also feel concerned if they are on their screens too much. 

What is Screen Time? 

Two little girls laying down and watching something on a laptop

According to the NIH, screen time is defined as "a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games." So, for example, watching videos on youtube, scrolling over social media updates, and playing phone apps are considered screen time.

What are the benefits of screen time? 

Screen time has some benefits if allotted in moderation.  Here are some positive effects. 

  • Educational videos and content are helpful for research and learning.
  • Playing games exercises finger muscles.
  • It allows kids to talk and communicate with their friends and family.

What are the risks of too much screen time?

Before we list down the risks, let's define what "too much screen time" means.

WHO also recommends limiting the kids' screen time according to age:

  • Infants: Screen time is not recommended
  • Kids 1 - 4 years old: No more than 60 minutes of screen time.
  • Kids 5 - 8 years old: Less than 120 minutes of screen time. (According to UNICEF)

If your kids go beyond the recommended screen time, that is already considered too much screen time.  So these are some possible adverse effects of it. 

  • Sleep Problems

The blue light from the gadgets inhibits the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.  Thus, kids and adults who use devices or watch televisions have trouble winding down and falling asleep.

A study concluded that infants who were exposed to the screen had a decreased 12-month nighttime sleep duration.

  • Obesity

Because watching and playing games are done sitting, it promotes a sedentary lifestyle.

  • Behaviour Problems

Research has linked too much screen time to aggressive behaviour.  Because of the sensory overload the kids experience, they encounter difficulties regulating their emotions, leading to anger. In addition, the violence they see in videos or games can also contribute to behaviour problems. 

  • Learning Problems

Kids learn best through observation, interaction, and exploration.  However, when they are glued to their tablets or television, they miss out on the learning experience of looking at the people, objects, and surroundings. 

Language development is also affected because children expand their vocabulary through talking and playing with an adult.  In addition, evidence shows that kids who watched a lot during their early grade school years performed less on reading tests and has less attention and focus. 

How to Develop Good Screen Time Habits

If screen time is part of your family's choice and lifestyle, here are good screen time habits you can follow to avoid or minimize the harmful effects of too much screen time. 

1. Set the rules.

Be clear about gadget use and screen time at home. For example, you can set a specific time frame or day to use their gadgets or have a set of tasks they need to complete before they can watch. 

2. Model good screen habits. 

If you are always on your phone, tablet, or laptop, chances are your kids will be glued to their gadgets too. So be sure to follow the house rules. No exceptions!

3. Select the videos your child can watch. 

Screen the television shows and online videos that your child has access to.  Ensure that the videos are age-appropriate and educational.  A trusted adult should accompany younger children. 

4. Screen the educational apps and games. 

Many applications and games are promising educational value.  Before you purchase or allow your child to play, make sure to check the game yourself.  Read the reviews and seek feedback from your friends. 

5. Use Parental Controls Settings.

Gadgets and apps usually have built-in parental control settings, which you can use to limit screen time, video selections, and search results.  You can also put in passcodes for added security.

6. Make time for physical activities and play. 

Your child needs to move, explore, and play to foster physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and language development.  The WHO recommends that children get enough physical activity.  WHO recommends that:

  • Infants: 30 minutes of physical activity (e.g., tummy time)
  • Kids 1 - 4 years old: At least 180 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity spread throughout the play. 

You can check out our past blog posts for activities for toddlers and preschoolers and age-appropriate chores for kids for more fun and practical activities. 

You may be surprised that your child may forget about screen time when he is busy playing. 

7. Setup the bookshelf and toy shelf.

Encourage reading and playing by displaying a set of books and toys in the home.  Remember to limit the books and toys on display and rotate them from time to time to entice the kids' interest and curiosity.

8. Invest in quality time. 

Take time to unplug regularly. Plan activities in the home to connect and bond.  You can have game nights, mini sports fests, or music jam nights. 

9. No gadgets during mealtime. 

Keep all gadgets off the table during mealtime. Instead, use mealtime to get to know your kids and bond together. 

10. No screen time one hour before sleeping time. 

Turn off the television and keep all the gadgets at least an hour before bedtime.

Is screen time bad for the kids? Not really for as long as it is used in moderation, you and your kids maintain genuine connections with families and friends and develop a healthy relationship with gadgets. 

How do you feel about your child's gadget use and screen time? Let us know in the comment section below.

Tiny Steps

We play, learn and grow with children.

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